49ers aim to unleash Aldon Smith against Saints

Aldon Smith played only 12 snaps in the 49ers’ 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints won’t be as lucky.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Thursday the 49ers plan for Smith “to play a lot” Sunday against Brees and the Saints’ passing attack that ranks first in the NFC.

Sunday’s game was Smith’s first since leaving an out-of-state treatment program following a Sept. 20 DUI arrest, his second in as many years.

Fangio said he intended for Smith, who was used as a situational pass rusher, to play more snaps. The Panthers, however, rarely used three-receiver sets during the low-scoring affair, which kept Smith on the sideline.

But the Saints use an abundance of three-receiver formations. And even when they don’t, they often use tight end Jimmy Graham as a receiver.

Smith had a sack in each of the first three games this season and led the team with 4½ until last week. Ahmad Brooks now leadswith 5½.

Another reason to increase Smith’s snaps at outside linebacker: Dan Skuta, who started the past six games in his place, is dealing with a foot injury. Skuta missed Wednesday’s practice but was back on the field in a limited capacity Thursday.

No setback for Crabtree – Wide receiver Michael Crabtree did not practice Wednesday and Thursday, but he has not had a setback in his return from an Achilles’ tendon tear. Recovery days are built into Crabtree’s routine.

Last week, Crabtree practiced for the first time since surgery on May 22. He is in the midst of a three-week window in which he can practice with teammates but does not count against the 53-man roster. After those three weeks, the 49ers can put him on the 53-man squad or shut him down for this season.

He is being eased back into the mix, and it seems unlikely he will play against the Saints. Last year, 49ers players Kendall Hunter (Achilles’) and Kyle Williams (ACL) suffered season-ending injuries on New Orleans’ artificial field.

The rest of the team’s games this season are on grass. The 49ers visit the Washington Redskins on Nov. 25, then host the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks the following two weeks.

Injuries – One starting defensive end, Justin Smith, was back at practice Thursday, but the other, Ray McDonald, missed his second straight session because of a high ankle sprain.

Fangio said McDonald is “iffy” to play against the Saints. If he can’t, Tony Jerod-Eddie likely would start with Demarcus Dobbs filling in.

Tight end Garrett Celek missed his second straight practice because of a hamstring injury, increasing the likelihood that tight end Derek Carrier will be elevated from the practice squad.

Tight end Vernon Davis and safety Eric Reid continued to pass the required tests in their post-concussion protocol. The last step is a “simulated contact” drill that could be administered today.