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.
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."