The week ahead for the 49ers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It’s time to dust off the NFL cobwebs with the San Francisco 49ers’ bye week now in the books. The 49ers are 6-2 and have five straight wins going into their home game against Carolina on Sunday. Here are some things to watch for this week:

Smith’s progress: The big story of the week, and perhaps the second half of the season, will be pass-rusher Aldon Smith. He was activated during the bye week from the Non-Football Illness list. He spent five weeks in an alcohol treatment center. The team will ease Smith back into football as his personal life remains the focus. Still, if Smith can get back into football shape (his first practice is a walk-through Tuesday) he will likely play some Sunday.

Manningham, Wright up: Rookie Tank Carradine and Smith were activated last week. Receiver Mario Manningham and cornerback Eric Wright will both be activated in the next day. Manningham will start as soon as he is ready to give much-needed relief. Anquan Boldin has been the only reliable receiver for San Francisco. Wright will be a backup. Among the candidates to get cut to make room for Maanningham and Wright are cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive tackle DeMarcus Dobbs and No. 3 quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Rookie receiver Quinton Patton could be put on injured reserve with a foot injury.

Returner switch? We may see new punt and kick retuners. Kyle Williams struggled badly against Jacksonville in London. LaMichael James may get a chance to show what he can do at punt returner. The team wants to find a way to get the 2012 second-round pick involved. Anthony Dixon took over for Williams at kick returner and he got a big return in London. I could see him staying there. If that happens, Williams could get buried at receiver as well with Manningham coming back.