SANTA CLARA -- Defensive tackle Justin Smith returned to 49ers practice Thursday for the first time since partially tearing a triceps tendon Dec. 16 at New England.
Smith wore a black brace on his left arm and showed no discomfort while engaging in light drills with fellow linemen during the media's 30-minute access window. "It felt good for what we did today, so we'll go out and see what happens," Smith said.
After missing the 49ers' final two regular-season games, Smith vowed to come back for the playoffs, which begin for the 49ers on Jan. 12 when they host a divisional-round game. The team stated last week that Smith has a bone chip loose in his elbow because of the partially torn tendon.
"It's just a matter of going out there. You play until you can't," Smith added. "I'll be ready. You can't worry about it in the game so I try not to worry about it right now."
Smith believes he can't do more harm to his triceps by playing. He began drills quite focused as linebacker Patrick Willis unsuccessfully tried to gain his attention nearby while shouting Smith's nickname, "Cowboy." The 49ers appear closer to full strength than they've been in months. Shedding their no-contact jerseys were linebackers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, cornerback Tarell Brown and fullback Bruce Miller. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman led the 49ers in tackles for the second straight regular season. Bowman made 183 tackles (93 solo), followed by Willis 171 (91 solo) and Justin Smith 130 tackles (81 solo). An "extremely limited" supply of tickets for the Jan. 12 playoff opener will go on sale Monday at 10 a.m. through Ticketmaster, the 49ers announced. Willis was the 49ers' only player to make ProFootballFocus.com's All-Pro First Team. Earning second-team honors were left tackle Joe Staley, left guard Mike Iupati, right guard Alex Boone and "edge rusher" Aldon Smith. Colin Kaepernick's jersey was the 13th-best seller last month on the NFL's official online store, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell. Making their 23rd playoff appearance, the 49ers own the fourth-most playoff wins in NFL history (26). They trail the Dallas Cowboys (33), Pittsburgh Steelers (33) and Green Bay Packers (29). The 49ers are 13-8 all-time in the playoffs' divisional round, including last season's 36-32 triumph over the New Orleans Saints. The 49ers' games against the Packers (Sept. 9) and New Orleans Saints (Nov. 25) ranked as the eighth- and ninth-most watched television shows in the nation since Labor Day. The 49ers have changed the direction of their two practice fields, back to how they were last season.