The 49ers public relations staff scheduled Justin Smith to appear at the podium to speak to the media about the team’s upcoming game against the Dolphins. The 12 year veteran didn’t show. He was lifting weights.
It’s one of the few things in the NFL the defensive end has missed. Smith never misses a workout or a start and very rarely a tackle. He entered the starting line up the fifth game of his rookie year and hasn’t come out since. To date, that’s 183 consecutive regular season starts. The streak began back on October 21, 2001 and more than doubles the next closest defensive lineman on the list, Minnesota’s Jared Allen (90).
Smith’s durability and ability to play at such high levels at the age of 33 is uncanny. He is only two tackles shy of his total from all of last season and already has more assists and combined tackles. His three sacks and nine quarterback hits are both third most on the team. He has also tallied a pass defensed and a fumble recovery. And there are four games still on the schedule to accomplish more.
Smith’s intense drive and workouts have taken on somewhat of a legendary status around the league. Clearly, whatever he’s doing, works. The media can wait.
Smith did eventually hold a group interview in the locker room after he finished. He stepped in front of reporters and opened the line of questioning appropriately for a man nicknamed Cowboy.
“Shoot,” said Smith, and the questions began.
QUESTION: Does it come across your radar that Aldon’s 5 sacks away from breaking Michael Strahan’s single season sack record:
JS: Well, first and foremost, everybody’s worried about getting a win. That’s first and foremost. But he’s chasing history, and he’s going to keep doing what he does to make the plays and help the team win. And along the way if he gets the record, so be it. We’re all pulling for him, and we’re pretty confident he will.
QUESTION: We’ve all written about his physical attributes, but what is his personality like and how does that help him?
JS: He’s a hard worker, studies in the room, knowing the scheme, knowing when you can take your opportunities, knowing when you can take that 1-on-1 block, when they’re going chip you, how to defeat all those separate blocks. And he doesn’t hurt us in the run either. I think a lot of time guys chasing all these sacks will hurt you in the run. He hasn’t hurt us in the run. He’s helped us in the run. He’s an all around great player. That’s what you have to be to be a good defense. You can’t just have guys out there with selfish goals. He’s done it along with helping the team win football games. That’s our ultimate goal here.
QUESTION: How much do you communicate with him now as opposed to his rookie year when he first started playing behind you?
JS: The one thing about great football players is they come in and they’re pretty good from the get go. You know, Aldon, got better as last year progressed and then just blew up. I mean, that’s a tribute to him being a great football player. He just continues to get better and non-verbal communication, and all those type of things you can do to become even better, pre-snap reads, all those things, he’s just done everything to take his game to another level and it keeps going up.
QUESTION: Do you take as much as pride in those sacks, too?
JS: Aldon does a great job not matter what we’re doing, the stunts, the 1-on-1 pass rush, he’s doing the work and he’s getting it done himself too. We take pride as a defense. That’s the thing. Records, this and that, that’s great and he feels the same way. It’s all about winning these games, getting to the playoffs and ultimately, hopefully win a Super Bowl and hopefully that record falls on the way there.
QUESTION: What do you see in [Miami QB] Ryan Tannehill that this defense can take advantage of?
JS: You know, I think the course of the year he’s played pretty well. For a rookie coming in, he’s pretty poised in the pocket, gets the ball out pretty quick on timing routes. They do a good job. They try to stick with running the ball. They’ve become a bit even a little more right handed with Jake Long being out. That’s to be seen. I think they’re overall a pretty good team. And a lot of those games they lost, two were in overtime, a lot of them being tight games, it’s going to be a pretty good match up.
QUESTION: Where does he rank among the other quarterbacks you’ve faced in terms of athleticism and being able to hurt you with his feet?
JS: I think like any quarterback, they’re not many that are just stuck in mud back there. We saw [Sam] Bradford take off on us a couple of times in three man rush. They can all make plays. I feel as far as his athleticism, he’s a pretty athletic guy, tall, can move, can throw the ball. You know everything you look for in a good young quarterback. He’s 23, 24, he can run.
QUESTION: With Jake Long out at left tackle, do you know what Jonathan Martin’s game is about?
JS: He’s a serviceable tackle in this league. It’s definitely not Long in there. But there are things you can do. You can chip, you can slide the line, you can do some more bootlegs, which is a big part of their offense as well, to help him out. So we kind of anticipate all those type of deals going on.
-Pause by reporters –
JS: We good?