Over his 13-year career with the 49ers, Joe Staley lined up against some of the NFL's greatest pass-rushers. He highlighted DeMarcus Ware and Michael Strahan as two of the toughest he faced, but there many great battles just at practice, too.
It all starts with Aldon and Justin Smith.
"I think the guys that were the hardest were the two guys that I played in the middle of my career, and then the end of my career with the Niners, going against them every day," Staley said Wednesday on 95.7 The Game's "Damon, Ratto & Kolsky" show. "The Smith brothers -- Aldon and Justin -- during those Harbaugh years, it was just unbelievable in practice against them.
"They made me an immensely better football player. You just had to be on it all the time or you're gonna get exposed in practice."
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Staley entered the NFL in 2007. One year later, Justin Smith joined the 49ers after seven seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Smith immediately starred for San Francisco and made five straight Pro Bowls from 2009 to 2013.
Three years after Justin joined, the 49ers took Aldon with the No. 7 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He burst onto the scene with 14 sacks as a rookie and then 19.5 the next year. Between their four years on the defensive line together, Aldon and Justin combined to record 66 sacks.
Those two were an opposing quarterback's worst nightmare. And then came Nick Bosa last year.
"Just in that one training camp I had with him I just realized how special he was and how talented of a football player he's gonna be," Staley said on Bosa.
That's all it took for the six-time Pro Bowl left tackle. Staley had seen Ware and Strahan. He had practiced against Aldon and Justin Smith. Bosa was next up.
The No. 2 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft proved Staley right. Bosa was named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year last season after totaling nine sacks, 16 tackles for loss and 25 QB hits.
Staley faced future Hall of Famers throughout his career. Sometimes, though, it's who you square off with in practice that presents the toughest challenge.