Around the NFC West: Boost for 49ers

Getting Aldon Smith back on the practice field nearly three weeks before the regular-season opener counts as a very encouraging development for the San Francisco 49ers.

Smith, coming off a 14-sack rookie season, has been sidelined since suffering a bruised hip against Minnesota in the 49ers' exhibition opener. Having proven himself as a pure pass-rusher, Smith has been working to develop as an every-down outside linebacker. He cannot do that from the sideline, of course.

The 49ers figure to need Smith at full health against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay in Week 1.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says it was unclear whether Smith participated fully in practice. The 49ers, having broken camp, have curtailed media access to the opening of practice, when players are mostly warming up. Barrows: "Smith, who suffered a hip pointer Aug. 10, appeared to be moving a bit more slowly than his teammates and he may not go through a full practice."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says a veteran sportscaster hired to cover the 49ers, among other duties, counts coach Jim Harbaugh among his friends since childhood. Dave Feldman, formerly of ESPN, joins Harbaugh in recounting a hilarious story from their youth, one in which Harbaugh's high school basketball team nearly brawled with fans of the other team.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers running back Kendall Hunter might appear more explosive as a runner this season, according to one of Hunter's former coaches.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says there were "multiple indications" Russell Wilson would get the start against Kansas City on Friday night. O'Neil: "This would undoubtedly inspire some hand wringing over taking practice time and first-unit repetitions away from Matt Flynn if he does in fact wind up the opening-day starter, but there's a couple of things to keep in mind in that regard: Flynn played the entire first half of each of the first two exhibition games, which is more than a starter typically does. Giving Wilson a chance with the first-unit offense this week might not be anything more than that: a chance." Noted: Coach Pete Carroll is obviously more interested in charting a course for the long term than making sure a certain quarterback gets as many snaps as possible before the regular-season opener. That is a reasonable approach under the circumstances, in my view.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times shares remembrances of George Hickman, a fixture in the Seahawks' and University of Washington pressboxes, and a man with a remarkable story. Hickman died over the weekend at age 88. He'll be missed.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune sizes up Deon Butler's prospects at receiver for Seattle.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with Cardinals tackle D.J. Young, a former practice-squad player with a chance to figure into the rotation now that an injury has felled Levi Brown. Somers: "Young is accustomed to proving himself. He transferred from Bowling Green to a junior college and then to Michigan State, where he wasn't on scholarship his first season. That changed after he started 11 games at right tackle as a junior. Young paid his own bills that year and is still paying off his student loans."

Also from Somers: Expect the Cardinals' starters to play extensively Thursday at Tennessee.

Josh Weinfuss of azcardinals.com says cornerback Greg Toler is struggling with knee issues.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains why the Rams are going for it on fourth down regularly during the exhibition season. Coach Jeff Fisher: "Well, I know both kickers can kick 20-yard field goals, 30-yard field goals. In the preseason, why not try to make plays on offense? So that's basically it. Obviously the philosophy changes during the regular season."

Jesse Bogan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the St. Louis stadium authority has made another stadium proposal, but the Rams aren't saying anything until the arbitration process runs its course.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com updates Steve Smith's health. So far, so good. Fisher: "Oh gosh, when he was healthy in New York, he went to the Pro Bowl. It’s a matter of us creating opportunities for him to get open. He understands the offense. He is a veteran receiver; he understands defenses and concepts so there is a lot ahead of him this year. We expect him to stay healthy."