Justin Smith: 'It's getting better every week'
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Programming note: 49ers Central from New Orleans airs today at 3 p.m. on Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area! 

NEW ORLEANS -- The 49ers' defense features nine players who played at least 90 percent of the team's snaps during the regular season.

Defensive tackle Justin Smith is No. 10 on the list at 77 percent only because he missed 2 1/2 games with a partially torn left triceps tendon.

So the team's overworked defense potentially has a lot to gain from the two weeks between the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. But, perhaps, nobody can benefit more than Smith, who continues to build strength in his arm with a modified weight-lifting regimen.

Smith returned to action, wearing a brace on his left elbow, for the playoffs after sustaining the injury early in the second half of the 49ers' Dec. 16 game against the New England Patriots. He will require offseason surgery to repair the damaged tendon.

"I think it's getting better every week," Smith said. "I can do more stuff every week. It heals up the more time goes by. It's feeling better. I'm getting used to wearing the brace a little bit better. I know how many more games I have left now. So it's just four more quarters."

Smith has been productive since, ranking second on the 49ers with 18 tackles. He has also produced 10 pressures and six hits on opposing quarterbacks, according to the coaches' film review.

But Smith admitted that the injury has forced him to change his technique "to a certain extent."

He said, "You try to do as much as you can in the way you're shedding blocks and stuff like that. There is a limited range in motion for sure."

Smith has managed to make a contribution in the postseason, and that's something he said he wasn't sure he'd be able to accomplish after sustaining the injury and being unable to return to action against the Patriots.

"The first thing that went through my mind was, 'What the hell did I do?' Smith said "I have never felt a pop like that before. It's just once you talk to the doctors and stuff like that, they were pretty confident that if it progressed right that I'd be ready to play. It worked out that way, so you just keep going as long as you can."