San Francisco 49ers

49ers notes: Bowman has MRI on knee, but return still uncertain

NaVorro Bowman had an MRI on Wednesday on his surgically repaired left knee that will determine if the 49ers linebacker returns to practice next week.

Tuesday is the last day Bowman, who is on the physically-unable-to-perform list, can begin a 21-day window for practicing with the team. Earlier in the week, ESPN’s Ed Werder said Bowman told him before Sunday’s game that he was experiencing pain in the knee.

“I saw that reported,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, “but I don’t know for sure.”

Bowman declined to talk to reporters Tuesday.

The 49ers can move Bowman to the active roster during the 21-day window. Given that his injury was less than 10 months ago, plus the 49ers’ backup linebackers are playing well, it’s likely the 49ers will use the full allotment of time before playing Bowman.

Under that scenario, Bowman might play in mid-December. The 49ers play the Seahawks in Seattle – where Bowman tore his ACL – Dec. 14, and they have a home game against the Chargers on Dec. 20.

Another option is shutting Bowman down for the season. Backups Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland have played well in place of Bowman and Patrick Willis, whose season ended Tuesday when he was placed on injured reserve with a toe injury. Borland apparently injured his shoulder in Sunday’s game and was practicing in a blue, no-contact jersey Wednesday.

“Those two are doing a great job of elevating their game to the standard that NaVorro and Patrick have set around here,” Harbaugh said. “I mean, they have no choice really but to do that. They’re doing a great job of getting that done.”

Giants eying Aldon Smith – The 49ers have been vague about how much Aldon Smith will be used in his first game back Sunday, but the Giants are expecting a healthy dose of the pass-rushing linebacker.

“I’m sure they’re not just going to throw him out there in his first game back, but I would imagine that he would have ‘x’ amount of plays and that he very well may be in there as a part of their third-down package,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said on a conference call.

Following a six-week layoff last season, Smith played 12 snaps in a Nov. 10 loss to the Panthers. He was limited to being a pass-rush specialist in the next two games and didn’t make his first start until Dec. 1 against the Rams.

But as Coughlin noted, Smith has been around the 49ers’ facility this year as opposed to last year. He said he expected Smith’s conditioning to be good and that he’s likely in tune mentally after attending all team meetings through the first nine weeks of the season.

If, as Coughlin suspects, Smith enters the game in nickel situations, he could be paired with rookie Aaron Lynch. Smith went through his first full practice of the regular season Wednesday.

Injuries – Cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring) and nickel cornerback Jimmie Ward (foot) missed Wednesday’s practice. If neither can play Sunday, Perrish Cox would move to the nickel spot on passing downs and another cornerback, likely rookie Dontae Johnson, would play on the outside.

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