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Niners' faith in Justin Smith remains strong for now

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Dan Arkush
Executive editor

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By Dan Arkush

Jim Harbaugh, who has shown he has as good a knack for snappy quotes as he does successful game plans, was at his glib best when asked a few days before the divisional playoff game vs. the Packers if Justin Smith, the wounded anchor of the Niners’ defensive line, would be able to suit up for the highly anticipated rematch.

“God willing and the creek don’t rise, he’s going to play,” the Niners head coach said of Smith, who had a streak of 186 conecutive starts snapped by the triceps injury.

If God is indeed willing and the creek does not overflow, will Smith continue to be considered as the San Francisco defense’s most indispensible piece both next season and beyond considering that the partially torn left triceps tendon he suffered in the first half of the Week 15 victory over the Patriots has turned him into a mere mortal?

The way we hear it, even though Smith's triceps injury is considered more than a little serious, the player who was previously heralded by Harbaugh as the NFL’s answer to “John Wayne” still shapes up as being as important as ever in what will be the final year of his contract in 2013.

“They’ll see what happens and then they’ll make a decision on Justin after next year,” a team insider told PFW.

Considering that in 2014 Smith will be less than a month away from turning 35 in what would be his 14th season, it figures to be a very challenging decision — unless, of course, Smith’s previously invincible body continues to just naturally wear down.

We hear a key factor worth considering could be Niners Pro Bowl ROLB Aldon Smith, whose play left a lot to be desired when Justin Smith was not on the field creating pass-rush opportunities for the second-year sack specialist (zero sacks in the final 2½ games).

“He was God-awful in the regular-season finale vs. Arizona without Justin,” the insider said of Aldon Smith. “He looked disinterested. It was not a good showing. If it turns out Aldon is no better than ordinary without Justin, then what do they pay him when it comes time to rework his contract?

“There are a few players who have mentioned that Aldon could be in a for a huge shock when Justin does leave.”

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