Despite injury, Malcolm Smith sticking around to help 49ers

49ers linebacker Malcolm Smith is likely out for the season with a torn pectoral but he could serve as a de facto coach while he tries to recover. Stan Szeto/USA TODAY Sports

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers officially placed linebacker Malcolm Smith on injured reserve Monday after he suffered a torn pectoral in Saturday's practice. Smith is expected to miss the season, though his recovery is considered a three- to four-month process and teams can designate players to return.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh couldn't help but express his disappointment in Smith's injury after he helped choose Smith as a target in free agency. Smith and Saleh had worked together with the Seattle Seahawks, and Smith's knowledge of the scheme was evident early on. He'd been one of the team's better defenders throughout the offseason program and into training camp.

"He was unbelievable," Saleh said. "He looked like the Super Bowl MVP. I don't hurt as much for the organization as I do for him and all the hard work he put in this offseason in order to position himself to have the best year of his career. I feel sick for him."

After receiving the bad news on Saturday night, Smith still was present at Monday's practice and could be seen offering advice to potential replacements Reuben Foster and Ray-Ray Armstrong. Smith's knowledge of the defense could thrust him into a sort of de facto coaching role while he works to return from the injury.

"He'd be an unbelievable help," Saleh said. "He was here today when he didn't have to be. He'll be here after his surgery when he doesn't have to be. That's just the person who he is and how he's built."

Foster got all the reps with the first-team defense on Monday, though Saleh said Armstrong also will get his chance before anyone is anointed the starter. We'll have more on Foster a bit later.

Other news, notes and observations from Monday's practice:

  • The Niners seemed to still be feeling the effects of their day off Sunday in what was a pretty sloppy practice. They did one drill where the offense was backed up near the goal line and working on staying disciplined while the quarterbacks worked on the hard count. Flags flew in repeatedly -- I unofficially tallied six pre-snap penalties -- and frustration followed. "Backed up situation, hard count indicator, offense was, I don't want to point the finger but they were kind of struggling with the hard count today," Saleh said. That's something coach Kyle Shanahan was not happy with, at one point kicking the second-string offense off the field. Safe to say that will be emphasized moving forward.

  • On some good injury news, the Niners welcomed defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (ankle) and tight end George Kittle (hamstring) back to full participation in Monday's practice. Both got plenty of work with the starters and Kittle had a handful of catches from quarterback Brian Hoyer.

  • Cornerback Rashard Robinson walked off the field with an apparent shoulder issue of some sort and ended up watching the rest of the workout. Guard Joshua Garnett watched the practice from the sideline with a compression sleeve on his left knee. Garnett is expected to miss four to six weeks. Zane Beadles and Daniel Kilgore worked with the starters at left guard in his place.

  • Linebacker Eli Harold (concussion) did some work on the side and appears to be progressing toward a return. Same for safety Jaquiski Tartt, whom Saleh said is expected back at some point this week, running back Tim Hightower (knee) and linebacker Brock Coyle (rib).

  • Stanford coach David Shaw made the short trek from Palo Alto and took in the practice. He spent some time catching up with Garnett, who played his college ball for the Cardinal.

  • Defensive end Arik Armstead had another solid day, coming up with a sack following a quick move past right tackle Trent Brown and later deflected a pass from Hoyer that ended up in the arms of cornerback Dontae Johnson. Johnson returned it for a touchdown.

  • The Niners haven't worked on a ton of situational drills to this point in camp, but have been sprinkling them in more lately. They had a 7-on-7 period in the red zone on Monday, and Hoyer made it look easy. He connected with fullback Kyle Juszczyk for a score and followed with two completions each to receiver Jeremy Kerley and tight end Vance McDonald for touchdowns. His only miss came when he overshot an open Kerley in the back of the end zone.

  • Undrafted rookie safety Lorenzo Jerome continues to make his case for a roster spot. He arrived with a reputation for making plays on the ball, but he's also showed an enthusiasm for physical contact lately. Jerome had a big hit on running back Raheem Mostert during team drills that forced a fumble and later delivered a punishing blow to Joe Williams. If the Niners keep four safeties, Jerome could be the fourth, especially if he shows up on special teams in the preseason.

  • Tim Barnes got his first work as the starting center on Monday as the Niners reshuffled without Garnett. Kilgore moved to left guard, allowing Barnes to get some snaps with the first-team offense.

  • The 49ers are back at it Tuesday morning.