NFL Nation: Justin Smith

Rams show respect for Justin Smith

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Asked by a group of St. Louis reporters Thursday afternoon when he planned to retire, San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith offered a simple response befitting one of the game's best but most simplistic players.

"I'm week to week," Smith said.

Smith
The week-to-week approach has served Smith well in his 13-plus seasons in the NFL. He is widely regarded as one of the game's strongest and toughest defensive linemen, earning five Pro Bowl nods and two All-Pro selections.

At 35, Smith doesn't seem to be slowing down much, if at all. He has 16 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the first five games this season, and has helped keep the 49ers near the top of the defensive rankings despite the notable absences of linebackers Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman.

"He’s just the same every single year," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He appears to be very healthy right now. He’s playing a lot of snaps and he’s playing hard. He’s an emotional player and kind of referred to (running back Frank) Gore as kind of their nerve center of their football team on offense. Everything’s built around them. And you can make a case that Justin is the guy there on defense."

Smith's workmanlike career has been the envy of many players around the league. Rams defensive end Chris Long this year cited Smith as an example of the type of career he'd like to have when Long suffered the ankle injury that ended his consecutive games streak. And to a man, the Rams' offense is well aware they better be prepared for a physical, brutal battle whenever Smith is on the other side.

Even Niners coach Jim Harbaugh, who rarely is willing to offer much beyond surface-level description, lights up at the mention of Smith and offers a little humor in describing his defensive fulcrum.

"Everybody respects Justin," Harbaugh said. "He is a 'football player.' That’s everything that you could possibly say good about a football player and a person, that is Justin Smith, a stalwart. A man everybody truly respects. Chuck Norris calls Justin Smith, 'sir.'"

Smith has had his share of game-wrecking performances against the Rams. In 2009, he set a personal best in sacks with three and a half, and he had eight tackles and another sack in a 2012 meeting against the Rams. That doesn't include the down-to-down impact Smith brings when taking on multiple blockers and allowing his linebackers to run free to the ball.

That is why Fisher wouldn't mind it one bit if Smith decided his week-to-week plan would come to an end sometime around Saturday or Sunday.

"Yeah, if you can talk him into retiring this weekend that would be great," Fisher said, laughing. "I’ll go to his retirement party."
ARLINGTON, Texas -- So, was the San Francisco 49ers' defense forcing turnovers in Sunday’s season opening 28-17 victory, or were the Dallas Cowboys merely presenting the ball to the vistors on a silver platter?

Smith
Depends upon your perspective, obviously, but the result is the same, and the 49ers were only too happy to ride four first-half takeaways into a 28-3 halftime lead. Especially with so many questions surrounding the Niners’ defense heading into the game.

Three starters were already out -- nose tackle Glenn Dorsey (biceps) and linebackers Aldon Smith (suspension) and NaVorro Bowman (knee) -- and the 49ers would lose both starting cornerbacks to injury -- Tramaine Brock (toe) and Chris Culliver (concussion).

"We always go out one game at a time," said defensive lineman Justin Smith. "We just do our deal. We got a lot of guys banged up and nicked up ... there are definitely some things we can improve on defensively from that game. Take it, learn from it and move on to next week."

Aside from Culliver’s scoop and score from 35 yards out on the third snap of the game, Smith might have had the key play of the game, the one that set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.

With the 49ers leading 7-0, the Cowboys drove with relative ease from their own 20 to the Niners' 2-yard line and were facing second and 1 when they called a timeout. Six feet away from tying the game and regaining momentum, the Cowboys could only look on in horror as Smith burst through the line to sack Tony Romo for a nine-yard loss.

Two plays later, the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal and, really, the defense-fueled rout was on.

"We made some big plays today," said Smith, who had six tackles, with two sacks for 20 yards.

"It wasn’t one of our better performances by any stretch of the imagination. I think we are going to use this as a learning experience to get better on."
Nine San Francisco 49ers players have already been listed on our #NFLRank Top 100 players ranking, and left tackle Joe Staley and defensive tackle Justin Smith are the 10th and 11th.

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Staley
Staley, who is entering his eighth season, checks in at No. 24 among all offensive players, a year after being No. 25.

“Staley has started every game and made the Pro Bowl in three straight seasons,” per ESPN Stats & Info. “The 49ers scored a league-high five rushing touchdowns on designed runs outside the left tackle last season.”

Smith, meanwhile, is No. 26 among defensive players. He was No. 11 in 2013.

“Last season, the 49ers recorded a sack on 7.4 percent of pass attempts with Smith on the field compared with only 4.3 percent when Smith was on the sideline,” according to ESPN Stats & Info. “Since Smith joined the 49ers in 2008, opposing quarterbacks’ Total QBR is nearly 20 points lower when he is on the field (42.9) compared with off (60.5).

Following are the 49ers players listed so far on the #NFLRanks project, and their respective rankings.

OFFENSE

No. 81: RT Anthony Davis

No. 54: WR Anquan Boldin

No. 53: LG Mike Iupati

No. 51: WR Michael Crabtree

No. 43: RB Frank Gore

No. 33: QB Colin Kaepernick

No. 24: LT Joe Staley

 

DEFENSE

No. 97: SS Antoine Bethea

No. 74: LB Ahmad Brooks

No. 71: FS Eric Reid

No. 26: DT Justin Smith
Examining the San Francisco 49ers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Because of heavy competition elsewhere, the 49ers will likely only carry two quarterbacks. They finished last season that way. The competition will be to see if undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner can take McLeod Bethel-Thompson's spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

The fact that the 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round and Lattimore is healthy means some tough decisions will have to be made. Hunter is too valuable to let go. That means 2012 second-round pick LaMichael James will have difficulty making the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

The 49ers are so much deeper here this year than last. That means they will likely have to keep six receivers. Lloyd may look good and Patton has too much potential to give up on. That means it could be tough for Kassim Osgood to make it even though he is a special teams cog.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

If Davis ends his holdout, I can't see the 49ers keeping more than three tight ends because of the glut at receiver. Unless Garrett Celek has a big camp, he may be in trouble. Carrier intrigues the 49ers because of his size and speed.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Assuming Boone ends his holdout, this is a pretty nice group of eight players. It's improved from last year. A solid veteran like Adam Snyder and a promising youngster like Ryan Seymour will have trouble making the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

This is another power spot. It's deep. Players like Jerod-Eddie and Dial are too valuable to cut. Ramsey has looked good and I have a hunch the 49ers may like him too much to expose him to the waiver wire. That means Demarcus Dobbs could be in trouble.

LINEBACKERS (7)

Most teams carry six linebackers but the 49ers are stacked here, especially with NaVorro Bowman out for about half the season. Because fifth-round pick Lynch is promising he should make the roster. Dan Skuta is an excellent player, but there might not be any room for him. I could see him being one of those later-summer Trent Baalke trade specials because he has value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

This unit is in flux, but I see Johnson making it. Don't be surprised if there is some in-camp jockeying as the 49ers look for the best mix.

SAFETIES (5)

Ward, the 49ers' first-round pick, will play nickel cornerback as a rookie, but projects long term as a safety. Ventrone and Spillman should stick because they are great on special teams. Craig Dahl could be in trouble.

SPECIALISTS (3):

This group is set and it's excellent.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 4
Preseason Power Ranking: 2

Biggest surprise: The impact that Michael Crabtree's injury and then his return had on the team. When Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles in May, the 49ers knew it would affect their offense. But his absence was felt dramatically during the 11 games he was out. The 49ers had essentially nothing behind receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis in the passing game. However, when he returned Dec. 1, the 49ers were instantly a better, more varied, dangerous offense. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was more confident. The difference was stark.

Biggest disappointment: The loss at New Orleans on Nov. 17. The 49ers appeared to have sealed the game when linebacker Ahmad Brooks sacked and forced New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees to fumble late. But Brooks was called for a questionable personal foul. The Saints rallied to win. It was a major storyline in the NFL that week. Had the 49ers won, they would have finished 13-3, won a tiebreaker over Seattle in the NFC West and would not have had to play at Seattle in the playoffs.

Biggest need: The 49ers are deep. They don't have many holes. But they can use another young receiver. Boldin is 33 and a free agent. Fourth-round pick Quinton Patton looks promising, but San Francisco will likely take a speed receiver early in the draft. Expect the team to take a cornerback fairly early as well. The 49ers need to develop a young player there.

Team MVP: Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. The 25-year-old had an amazing season. He is an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He was dominant in virtually every game. He is a special playmaker. It was a sad sight seeing him being carted off in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss at Seattle with a major knee injury. Bowman is expected back next season. The 49ers need him.

In our NFL confidential survey, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson received the most votes when players were asked which player do they most want to see play in a Super Bowl.

Peterson was a popular choice among the 10 49ers players polled. So it's not surprising he was the leading vote getter. Most of the 49ers’ roster was not eligible because they qualified for the Super Bowl last season.

If not, I’m sure players like running back Frank Gore, defensive tackle Justin Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis would have received votes because they are so well respected around the league.

Small 49ers' Pro Bowl group

January, 21, 2014
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There will not be a big San Francisco 49ers' contingent at this weekend's Pro Bowl.

Linebacker Ahmad Brooks told the San Jose Mercury News he expects to be the only 49er there. Eight 49ers made the team, which was announced in December. It was tied for the most with Kansas City.

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman (knee) and guard Mike Iupati (leg) were seriously injured in the 49ers' loss at Seattle in the NFC title game Sunday. Left tackle Joe Staley suffered a minor thumb injury.

Brooks told the paper running back Frank Gore, defensive tackle Justin Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis aren't planning on playing and tight end Vernon Davis told reporters nagging injuries will keep him out.

All the bail outs are not surprising. Often players, especially players who have been to the Pro Bowl in the past, choose to rest rather to go to the Pro Bowl. It is especially not surprising in the 49ers' case. They just ended a three-week window in which they played three road playoff games.

NFLN survey/most respected: 49ers

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
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In our player survey (10 players from every team were asked) Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is the most respected player in the league.

No player from the San Francisco 49ers were among the league leaders in the category.

Manning received solid support from the players I polled.

If I had to say which San Francisco player would win these category, I'd say defensive tackle Justin Smith would be the most respected.

The 34-year-old Smith is probably the most respected player in the locker room by his teammates.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- As he dressed alongside NaVorro Bowman, after another dominant San Francisco 49ers defensive performance that propelled the team to its third straight NFC Championship Game, Patrick Willis looked up.

“This is the greatest sport there is,” the perennial Pro Bowl linebacker said. Bowman smiled and nodded.

[+] EnlargeNaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezLinebackers NaVorro Bowman (53) and Patrick Willis anchor a 49ers defense that has the team competing for the NFC championship on Sunday.
They are arguably the greatest pair of position players in the NFL.

As the 49ers have revisited their glorified past this season under coach Jim Harbaugh, it has been cemented by fierce, take-over defensive play. The team's five Super Bowl trophies may have been won by players like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young, yet their latest run at a dynasty is being paved on the other side of the ball.

It starts with Willis and Bowman.

“They are like two machines in the middle of our defense,” San Francisco rookie safety Eric Reid said.

The two inside linebackers are the heartbeat of the 49ers’ defense, which has shut out opponents in an NFL-high 35 of 78 quarters this season.

The defense is loaded with stalwarts such as outside linebackers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, defensive tackle Justin Smith, and safety Donte Whitner, but the personality of this unit starts with Willis and Bowman.

In fact, some believe the duo might be among the best linebacker tandems ever to play.

“They are historically good,” ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said. “They are there with [Jack] Ham/[Jack] Lambert, [Brian] Urlacher/[Lance] Briggs, [Willie] Lanier/[Bobby] Bell. [Willis and Bowman] are a truly rare and elite pairing.”

The 49ers came across this historic pairing unexpectedly. They drafted Willis, who will turn 29 later this month, with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2007 draft. He was considered a can’t-miss prospect out of Mississippi and has been first- or second-team All-Pro in his first six NFL seasons.

When the 49ers drafted Bowman three years later, they were just hoping to get a capable potential starter. He was taken in the third round out of Penn State in 2010. Running back Frank Gore recalls seeing Bowman as a rookie in camp and knowing the 49ers might have found the perfect complement to Willis.

“Even in training camp, OTAs, I just saw how fast he was,” Gore said. “How he could read and get to the ball. We have the same agent (Drew Rosenhaus) and I called my agent and I said, 'Man, you've got somebody right here, man. That’s a good pickup for you to represent.' "

Still, Bowman’s success was not instant. Harbaugh's staff came in 2011. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio told his new defense that only Willis and Justin Smith were guaranteed a spot. Everyone else had to go earn it. Bowman listened.

“No, because he really didn’t play much the year before,” Fangio said, when asked if he had big expectations for Bowman in 2011. "And all through that offseason, that was the lockout year, there was kind of an assumption that Takeo Spikes was going to come back here. And NaVorro probably would have been in the same role. In retrospect, it’s a good thing that Takeo didn't come back here because he would have been beaten out by NaVorro.”

Once Bowman, 25, got on the field, he and Willis instantly clicked. Both have been among the league leaders in tackles, and they have a unique chemistry. While Bowman was an All-Pro last season, he has taken his game to the next level as Willis dealt with hand and hamstring injuries early in the season.

Bowman, who came up with the 49ers' play of the year when he saved the final game at Candlestick Park in Week 16 by returning an interception 89 yards for a touchdown against Atlanta, is a candidate for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. Willis fully supports his younger teammate. Asked about Bowman's candidacy, Willis said “he has my vote.”

Perhaps what makes this combination so strong is that they are as in sync off the field as they are on it. They each had 11 tackles, tying for a team-high (Willis also had an interception), in the 23-10 win Sunday against Carolina that sent the 49ers to the NFC title game against Seattle. They conducted their postgame news conference together. Willis, a country kid from Tennessee, and Bowman, who hails from a high-crime area in Maryland just outside Washington, D.C., both are quiet by nature, and neither is overly flashy off the field. Bowman said the key to their success is discipline in the study room.

“We are students, we are in school,” Bowman said. “We learn every day.”

The 49ers will be counting on them for the long haul. Willis is signed through 2016 and Bowman through 2018, and Harbaugh knows these two are a key to the team’s success.

“The teamwork, the respect that they have for each other, the love, is shared by many people on the team,” Harbaugh said. "And that, as a coach, there’s nothing that makes you feel as good as to hear that. That’s the team, the team, the team. And it’s genuine. It’s not talk."

Neither is the impact of Willis and Bowman on the 49ers' success.
Not surprisingly, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was voted the most feared player in the NFL in our NFL Nation confidential survey of more than 320 players.

Suh has been fined seven times and suspended twice during his four-year NFL career for various illegal hits and incidents. He was fined an NFL-record $100,000 for an illegal hit in the 2013 season opener against Minnesota.

However, Suh only drew one vote from the 10 Jaguars polled. Houston defensive end J.J. Watt topped the list with three votes, most likely because the Jaguars face the Texas twice every season and rarely play the Lions.

Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson got two votes, while San Francisco defensive end Justin Smith, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick each earned one vote.

Clearly, players looked at “most feared” in a variety of ways. Some viewed it synonymously with “dirtiest,” while others felt it meant the most dangerous player to face.

49ers enjoying strong health

January, 8, 2014
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- While cornerback Carlos Rogers' hamstring injury continues to linger, the San Francisco 49ers head into their NFC divisional playoff game at Carolina in solid overall health.

Earlier Wednesday, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said he liked his team’s overall health going into the game and the team's injury report confirmed the 49ers are in solid shape.

The following San Francisco players missed practice Wednesday: defensive tackle Demarcus Dobbs (knee, shoulder), center Jonathan Goodwin (not injury related), defensive tackle Justin Smith (shoulder) and Rogers.

Smith and Goodwin routinely don’t practice on Wednesdays and Dobbs is a backup. If Rogers, who didn’t play at Green Bay, can’t play Sunday, Perrish Cox and Eric Wright will play the nickel spot for him.

In other 49ers notes:

Harbaugh said this when asked to explain how much fun he’s having coaching in the playoffs: “This is as much fun as you can possibly have in football and as much fun as you can have in life, yeah.”

Harbaugh said he thought the 49ers matched up well physically against the tough-and-tumble Panthers in Carolina’s 10-9 win in San Francisco on Nov. 10.

Harbaugh complemented the Panthers' defensive front seven by saying it was the most talented group the 49ers have played this season.
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

At first glance, it looks as though the 49ers got shortchanged on the All-NFC West list, especially on defense. After all, the San Francisco defense is clearly one of the NFL's best.

So, to see only defensive tackle Justin Smith and inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman represented could raise eyebrows. However, one must consider that the NFC West is a fantastic division for defensive play. Try to find a more talented group; it'd be difficult.

The 49ers did well in total. They placed eight players on the 26-man All-NFC West first-team (as voted on by the four writers who cover the teams in the division). Seattle had eight on the first team, Arizona seven and St. Louis three.

So the 49ers were represented. Arguments certainly could have been made for linebackers Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks, as well as safeties Donte Whitner and rookie Eric Reid. But again, the players on this team are solid.

The 49ers were recognized for their strong offensive line -- the list includes three-fifths of the group with tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis and guard Alex Boone. No argument there. This is a physical group that sets the tone.

Tight end Vernon Davis, receiver Anquan Boldin and punter Andy Lee were all worthy picks.

It was a tough call between Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore at running back. We went with just one. Lynch has 1,160 rushing yards and Gore has 1,114. Gore is a big part of what the 49ers do, but Lynch is vital to the Seahawks' offense.

A major argument could be made for San Francisco kicker Phil Dawson to be on the first team. He has been a major cog this season. But again, in total, the 49ers fared pretty well on this list.

The San Francisco 49ers had eight players named to the Pro Bowl on Friday night.

Who made it: LB Ahmad Brooks, LB NaVorro Bowman, tight end Vernon Davis, RB Frank Gore, G Mike Iupati, DL Justin Smith, LT Joe Staley, LB Patrick Willis.

My thoughts: The 49ers’ eight Pro Bowl selections is tied for the league high. The name that stands out is Brooks, who is having a great year. But he may be overshadowed by Bowman and Willis. It was good to see Brooks get the recognition he deserves. Iupati’s selection is a bit surprising considering he missed four games with a knee sprain, but he has played well when on the field.

Snubbed: Receiver Anquan Boldin, guard Alex Boone, punter Andy Lee, safeties Donte Whitner and Eric Reid and special teamer CJ Spillman were selected as alternates. They all easily could have made it. I think the biggest snubs are Boone, Dawson and Whitner. All three had huge seasons.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

NaVorro Bowman adds to DPOY cause

December, 26, 2013
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Earlier this month, San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh stumped for inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman to be a candidate for the NFL's defensive player of the year award.

Now, Bowman has a signature moment to help his candidacy.

Bowman
Bowman, a tackling machine who has been one of the most consistent defensive players in the league, made one of the most memorable plays of the season to seal the 49ers’ playoff berth in a 34-24 win over Atlanta.

He caught a tipped ball by San Francisco cornerback Tramaine Brock and took it 89 yards for a touchdown to seal the game with 1:10 to go. Bowman started the play as a pass-rusher and then shot back to the ball to try to make a tackle.

What does Harbaugh think of Bowman’s chances for the award now?

“It’s sure not going to hurt him,” Harbaugh said.

I think Bowman will have difficulty getting interest, in part because he is not a high-profile name (even though he was an All-Pro last year). There are better-known players on the 49ers’ defense, such as Aldon Smith, Justin Smith and fellow inside linebacker Patrick Willis.

Still, there is no doubt Bowman deserves consideration.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Speaking about the San Francisco 49ers’ defense on Thursday, star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman said the team is relatively healthy going down the stretch -- a big key to a run in the postseason.

"For the most part we're healthy, man, and I think that's the big thing," Bowman said. "My big thing now is that we're healthy at the end the month of December and we're able to play at 100 percent level and give it all that we have and not really have any excuses."

The team's 53-man roster is fairly healthy overall as evident by Thursday’s injury report as the 49ers have been practicing in earnest in preparation of Monday’s night’s home game against Atlanta.

The big question mark remains left guard Mike Iupati, who has missed the past four games with a knee sprain. He was limited for the fourth straight practice this week. The fact that Iupati is still limited could be concerning, but it might just be the team’s plan of bringing him back slowly.

Center Jonathan Goodwin (not injury related), receiver Mario Manningham (illness, knee), and defensive end Justin Smith (shoulder) did not practice. Barring setbacks or anything unforeseen, all three players should be on track to play Monday. Receiver Michael Crabtree had a hand injury Sunday at Tampa Bay, but he practiced fully Thursday.

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