Every day during OTAs and now minicamp has brought a familiar sight on the side field: Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, side by side, working out. Whether doing sprints, lifting weights, moving their limbs in circles on cardio machines or just walking and talking, they never seem to be too far apart.
Justin broke away from his buddy for about five minutes to answer some questions after the team’s morning session, where he said he’s “almost 100%.” Would he be on the field if a game was scheduled tomorrow? “Oh yeah,” Smith said.
“You just want to be back at 100%, at your all-time best, whatever you feel strength-wise. Probably about a month off from that. Close,” Smith said.
Jim Harbaugh said Smith was benching 350 pounds back on May 22, so the 49ers feel comfortable counting on him to anchor the defensive line for yet another year. However, Smith is 33 years old and heading into his last season under contract. And for all the talk about finding a replacement for Smith in the draft, they selected Eric Reid in the first round. Tank Carradine, a second pick defensive lineman who tore ACL last season at Florida St., won’t take part in team drills until training camp at the earliest.
Not surprisingly, Smith was uninterested in talking about future extensions or how long his career might last.
“You really can’t forecast anything past the year you’re in. I’m thinking about 2013 and 2013 only,” Smith said. “I’m at a point in my career where nothing’s a given. Nothing’s a guarantee. They don’t like old guys anyway, for football. So I’m just going to enjoy this year.”
In order to remain an “old guy” that teams like the 49ers would be interested in paying big money after 2013, Smith probably can’t afford another injury like the one he suffered last year in New England. He showed incredible pain tolerance in coming back when he did, but with both he and Aldon weakened by injuries (as well as Ahmad Brooks, who isn’t practicing either), the pass rush — and the pass defense as a whole — suffered in the playoffs.
Smith’s torn triceps was more of a freak injury than a symbol of him wearing down as an athlete. But Smith never got hurt before, so it was a new experience when his streak of 185 consecutive games was snapped. Smith blames the media more than age or the New England Patriots for having to sit.
“You jinxed me. I kept saying you guys jinxed me. I was fortunate to make it as long as I did,” said Smith, who now has a new appreciation for players dealing with injuries.
“You realize it can be taken from you at any time. I hadn’t been hurt for 12 years prior, so you kind of look at a guy who’s hurt and go, ‘Aw, c’mon,’” Smith said.* “But you realize what that side of it’s like and realize what some of those guys are going through.”
* I posted this 25-second video because I loved his smirk when mentioning what he used to think about guys who were hurt. Smith always seems to do or say something amusing during his interviews.
Both Justin and Aldon know exactly what each other have gone through, because despite the age difference they’re largely in the same boat. They both played at Missouri and now play on the same defensive line in the NFL, and they both had to play hurt during the latter stages of last season. So it made sense when, at the end of Justin’s interview, Aldon walked behind him into the locker room, his jheri curl glistening in the Santa Clara sun.
It just so happened that at the time Aldon passed by, Justin was answering a question about others on the defensive line getting more playing time in 2013 … possibly instead of the two Smiths playing just about every single down. Smith didn’t seem against the idea, but answered the question with typical practicality.
“There’s definitely some guys worth of some more reps. Anytime you have that situation, you look into that and maybe keep some other guys a little bit fresher,” Smith said. “The whole goal is going out and winning and playing the best defense you can, not necessarily just getting reps.”