The San Francisco 49ers' new left tackle is a man of few words. Ninety-seven of them, to be exact. The perfect player for this sound-bite era.

"I know you guys want to know how I feel about facing Bruce Smith and so on and so forth," Jamie Brown said. "But it doesn't start with just facing Bruce Smith. It starts with me and my commitment and my blessings, that I've been blessed to do in my life and that's play football."And I'm very happy, I'm very thankful, I'm very excited, and I'm glad it's a team effort and I'm not the only one out there facing Bruce Smith. All right, God bless, that's it, it starts right here in practice, and that's where I'm going."

With that, and the 23 seconds it took to say it, Brown headed out for the most meaningful few days of practice in his short and troubled stay with the 49ers. Since coming to San Francisco in a trade from Denver last April, Brown has been:

- handed the starting left tackle job;

- injured in training camp;

- absent without leave from one exhibition game and late for another;

- suspended for 21 days for "conduct detrimental to the team";

- reinstated, with the proviso that unless he worked hard in practice, he'd be gone;

- named the starter at left tackle for Sunday's game at Buffalo to replace the injured Dave Fiore.

Brown, 26, is apparently recovered from the calf, hamstring and groin injuries that sent him into such a funk in training camp.

"He has stayed healthy over the last 10 days or so," coach Steve Mariucci said. "It appears he'll remain healthy. While I think he'll do a good job, he's got to put a few weeks of practice together and play hard for three hours on Sunday."

With precious little practice time before this week and only four career starts to his credit, sending Brown out against a player of Smith's caliber seems a losing proposition. But if there is such a thing as a good time to face Smith, this is it.

For one thing, the great Bills defensive end is 35 and has bad knees. He had knee surgery in February, missed the regular-season opener and has been slow coming around from a procedure in which small holes were drilled into the joint to stimulate the growth of cartilage.

"Just struggling," Smith said in a conference call. "It's been very frustrating and disappointing up to this point. We anticipated that it would have come around better and would have healed sooner. Sometimes that can take up to a year."

So it's a sub-par Smith that Brown will be facing at Rich Stadium. At 6-foot-8 and 318 pounds, Brown has the size and long arms to at least keep Smith occupied while Steve Young drops back to pass.

"I think he's capable," Young said. "Emotionally he's up for it. We'll do our best to help him."

The 49ers thought enough of Brown's ability - or at least his potential - that they gave a 1999 second-round draft pick to Denver for him. The scouting report on Brown is that he has decent foot-work for someone his size, a necessity for playing offensive tackle.

"I'm going to predict that Jamie will have a fine game," offensive line coach Bobb McKittrick said. "He can do some things in pass blocking because of his extreme range with his long arms."

Technically, McKittrick said Brown is "a striker. He bends his knees and gets under someone. He has all the physical attributes you look for in a big man."

Brown got the starting nod over rookie Chris Ruhman based on his limited experience in the NFL. He started Denver's first two games last season at right tackle after getting two starts at left tackle in 1996.