The 49ers placed Aldon Smith on the 53-man roster today but sent yet another defensive contributor, nickel cornerback Jimmie Ward, to injured reserve, which ends his rookie season.
The team's first-round draft pick suffered a foot injury Sunday in New Orleans. It's not known whether the injury is related to the Jones fracture – fracture to his fifth metatarsal – that affected him in the offseason, but the problem is with the same foot.
The 49ers did not make a move with nose tackle Glenn Dorsey, who remains on injured reserve with a biceps injury. That means second-year player Quinton Dial is likely to start at the position Sunday against the Giants with Tony Jerod-Eddie available as a backup.
Ian Williams, the team's nose tackle for the first nine games, suffered a leg fracture against the Saints. He does not need surgery but will be out several weeks.
The move involving Aldon Smith is tantamount to an announcement that he will play against the Giants. How many snaps he sees, however, remains a mystery. One possibility is that, like Sunday against the Saints, Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch will start at outside linebacker and that they and Smith will rotate in passing situations against New York.
The 49ers had been given a roster exemption for Smith, who was suspended for the first nine games. That exemption, however, does not apply if he is among the 46 players who suit up on Sunday.
The 49ers also have Corey Lemonier and Chase Thomas available at the position. Early season starter Dan Skuta was limited in practice with an ankle injury and is questionable to play against the Giants.
Ward's absence means that Perrish Cox becomes the top option at nickel cornerback. With Tramaine Brock (hamstring) likely unavailable Sunday, rookie Dontae Johnson will enter the game in passing situations.
“There’s a good chance he can play a fair amount this week,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said of Johnson, a fourth-round pick. “He’s gotten his opportunities. They were kind of unrehearsed opportunities, on the run. This week he may be able to get one where he’s really prepared for it.”
Veteran Carlos Rogers played the nickel cornerback position the last three years in San Francisco but left for the Raiders via free agency. The 49ers drafted Ward in the first round specifically to play nickel cornerback. He hasn’t started any games this season but has played 262 snaps and would have played extensively against a Giants defense that used three or more receivers on nearly 75 percent of its offensive plays.
Ward, Cox and Darryl Morris all took turns at nickel in the preseason. Morris is now on the Texans' roster.
The 49ers' already have placed two defenders, Chris Cook (hamstring) and Patrick Willis (toe) on season-ending injured reserve. Two offensive players, Kendall Hunter (ACL) and Daniel Kilgore (ankle), also are on injured reserve. Dorsey went on injured reserve with a designation to return. He is can return to the 53-man roster at any point.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.