Justin Smith sees sense of urgency developing
Nobody represents the win-now mentality of the San Francisco
49ers more than Justin Smith. The All-Pro defensive tackle will
tell you so himself.
The 49ers concluded their offseason workout program Thursday
with Smith stressing the urgency he sees developing as the
defending NFC West champions prepare for the 2012 season.
San Francisco has built a contender expected to challenge for
the Super Bowl. Those hopes are built around players such as Smith,
one of nine 49ers to earn Pro Bowl honors last season and a leader
on a defense that returns all 11 starters.
Entering his 12th NFL season, Smith says he and the 49ers have a
window of opportunity that doesn’t come around often. And many of
those around him in the locker room feel the same way.
”The mindset I’ve kind of been spreading to the guys is, your
team isn’t always going to be stacked, we’re not going to be able
to keep this team together forever,” Smith said.
”So let’s go out and try to hammer this thing home,” Smith
said. ”You know, we’re not building, so let’s do it this year.
It’s the goal of 31 other teams as well, so it’s going to be a
tough one to achieve. But we feel like we’ve got the right team to
That’s quite a contrast to last year at this time, when the
49ers were coming off a string of eight consecutive seasons without
a playoff berth and starting over again with a new coaching staff
led by Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco’s fourth head coach in nine
Since then, the 49ers made a surprise run to the NFC
Championship game, then loaded up during the offseason with free
agents and draft picks to bolster the weak areas of their
San Francisco’s offense – which finished 26th in the NFL
rankings last year – has looked better during workouts this spring.
That had flamboyant tight end Vernon Davis stating last week that
the 49ers should be considered Super Bowl favorites this
Davis didn’t exactly back away from that comment in a group
setting this week.
”I don’t want to sound too cocky, but I think we have the
potential,” Davis said. ”I think we have a lot of potential and
I’m not wrong for saying that because of the talent we have. I
can’t say that we’re going to win the Super Bowl. All I can say is
that I strongly believe that we have the team to get to that point.
It makes me excited because I know what we have going
San Francisco’s sturdy defense has produced a lot of the
excitement after finishing fourth in the NFL rankings last year and
leading the league in rushing defense and takeaways while finishing
second in fewest points allowed.
That unit is anchored up front by Smith, who displayed his
strength and versatility in the team’s 3-4 scheme last season by
earning All-Pro first-team honors at defensive tackle while also
earning All-Pro second-team honors at defensive end.
Smith will carry a streak of 171 consecutive starts into this
season, which ranks third among all active NFL defenders and first
among defensive linemen. Smith, who turns 33 in September, rarely
misses a snap and shows no signs of slowing down after producing
the best season of his career in 2011.
Smith’s approach and the way he takes care of his muscular
285-pound body have become examples for others.
”It always helps when your best players are your hardest
workers,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. ”He
definitely falls in that category. And it’s easy for young guys to
follow suit. Justin stays on top of it, and he’s still here and
playing at a high level. He gives us tremendous run play and pass
rush, and his intangibles from his leadership and toughness are off
Smith knows it won’t last forever and he has no interest in
hanging on when he no longer can handle duty as an every-down
player. But he doesn’t foresee that day coming for a while.
And after recording the first playoff victory of his career last
season, Smith is eager to go farther with San Francisco.
”I figure I have three more good years in me, four more good
years,” Smith said. ”I’m figuring, `Let’s go.’ Time is of the
essence for me. I think everybody feels the urgency and we’ve got
the guys right now. And let’s not wait.”