Mario Manningham San Francisco 49ers

The bye week brought health to the 49ers in more ways than what a restful off-week could produce, but with Aldon Smith, Mario Manningham, Eric Wright and Tank Carradine all returning to practice and possible playing on Sunday, Jim Harbaugh said there’s going to be some tough decisions regarding inactives.

“Six really good football players won’t be active for the game,” Harbaugh said, noting that only Quinton Patton will be an injured inactive. “So there’s some decisions to be made, and you expect that players will have the opportunity the rest of this week to state a case, make an argument for why they should be on the field contributing.”

While it’s been a topic of ample discussion since his return to the 49ers during the bye week, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Aldon Smith doesn’t play. Harbaugh wouldn’t commit Smith into playing time on Sunday (shocking, I know), but he did concede the decision would be football related.

“It’s good to have him back,” Harbaugh said of Aldon. “Good to be around him again.” The coach said Smith looked fit physically and ready to play.

Then there was the question of Manningham, and while Harbaugh didn’t offer much insight on his progression since returning to practice, he mentioned the importance of today’s session.

“Today’s the big practice of the week,” he said, noting it’s the most important day to evaluate players. Again, he was non-committal, but you have to sense that Manningham will jump into the starting role opposite Anquan Boldin when the Panthers show up on Sunday.

More from Harbaugh

— The coach was also excited to have Michael Crabtree back, practicing for the first time yesterday.

“15 reporting eligible,” Harbaugh said. “Everybody kind of watches out of the corner of their eyes while they’re doing drills.” Today marks the six-month anniversary of Crabtree’s Achilles injury, and the coach said at least for today’s practice “he’ll have a pitch count.”

— Harbaugh also said Quinton Patton had the boot removed from his broken foot recently (Monday or Tuesday, but he wasn’t certain). Harbaugh denied Eric Branch’s suggestion of injured reserve for Patton, saying the rookie looks really good and that he anticipates he’ll play again this year.

— Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks went through drills with Aldon Smith yesterday — drills Willis said get him exhausted every time. But Smith must have stayed in shape during his month rehabilitating, because Brooks said Smith “wasn’t even huffing and puffing.”

When Janie McCauley told the story to Harbaugh today, it took the coach by surprise.

“Who said that, Patrick Willis and Ahmad?” He asked. “Really? … Interesting. That concerns me because the drills were not that rigorous.”

— Speaking of rigorous, McCauley also asked Harbaugh about his health in light of the situations involving Gary Kubiak and John Fox. Harbaugh skirted the issue, saying his minor heart procedure last year was something he could walk off.

“I’m feeling good,” he said. “Thanks for asking.” Harbaugh left it at that. Still, it’s a question worth asking. I couldn’t have been the only person to immediately think of Harbaugh when news spread that Kubiak collapsed on the field.

— If you like to talk football at the dinner table, I could imagine a night with Harbaugh and family is pretty entertaining. He again described Cam Newton as “Plutonium grade raw material” and talked about how, when the quarterback was coming out of the draft, his father-in-law had to have Newton on the 49ers.

“He was adamant that we had to get Cam Newton,” Harbaugh said, quoting his father-in-law. “He was the future of the NFL. Give him credit: he saw it, he saw some things in Cam Newton.”

He didn’t have any love for Colin Kaepernick, though. Coach said “championing Colin Kaepernick” was all Jack Harbaugh.

— Finally, the coach didn’t want to comment on anything regarding the Richie Incognito story except to say that he knew Jonathan Martin, and called him a personal friend. He said he would be willing to discuss the team’s policy on hazing and policing the locker room, but at a time when the topic wasn’t the center of attention.

“If you want hearsay just tune into ESPN,” Harbaugh said. “They’re rolling it all day long.”