Around the NFC West: Justin Smith update

Around the NFC West: Dec. 21, 2012

Pro Bowl defensive lineman Justin Smith has yet to practice with the San Francisco 49ers since suffering what the team lists as an elbow injury against the New England Patriots in Week 15.

That is concerning news for the 49ers in two ways.

Smith is one of the team's best players, for one. Also, depth could be a concern for San Francisco if just about any of the team's starters misses time, let alone a starter as important to the 49ers as Smith continues to be. That is because the 49ers rely upon their starters more than is typical, a potential concern already after the defense logged 94 snaps against the Patriots, roughly 50 percent more than usual.

Ten of the 49ers' defensive starters entered Week 15 having played more than 90 percent of the snaps. That was by far the largest number in the NFL. Washington and Arizona were next with six apiece. The average for teams other than the 49ers was 3.4.

Smith isn't just any starter, either. He plays a key role in setting up Aldon Smith for sacks. He anchors the 49ers' run defense, which allows only 3.6 yards per attempt.

The injury report issued later Friday will be a highly anticipated one from the 49ers. Smith's status is key.