Justin Smith indicated to reporters outside the San Francisco 49ers' training facility in Santa Clara that he wasn't concerned about what lies ahead after this year and that he's certainly optimistic about the coming season.
"I'm playing this year. That's all I'm focused on…I feel a lot healthier than I did last year. I fell a lot better." Smith told reporters.
"Cowboy" as he's nicknamed, revealed that he had been playing the entire 2013 season with an injured shoulder that he suffered during training camp. Smith received shoulder surgery this offseason which resulted in him missing all of the 49ers' offseason workouts. Details of the injury were not mentioned, but Smith showed no signs of being concerned, and would only express that he is fortunate to be in a situation to compete for a Super Bowl, not just a playoff contender.
"Our goal is to get to the Super Bowl and win it. We can actually say it like we've been saying it for the last couple of years with a straight face, I've been (places) before where I've said it, and then I've walked away and said. 'I can't believe I just said that.'"
Despite the apparent shoulder injury, the 14-year veteran still compiled 6.5 sacks, didn't miss a start (while also starting in all three playoff games) and was recognized for his gritty play by being named to his fifth career Pro Bowl. However, there were times where Smith appeared to lack a certain burst while trying to shed blocks that Niner fans were accustomed to seeing. Some assumed it could have been his age catching up to him or that he was still recovering from his torn triceps he suffered in 2012. Smith would only express, "It was what it was…They can fix it…"
The 49ers have no plans of pushing Smith's workload this training camp in hopes of keeping their key defensive tackle fresh to start the year, as well as get a better look at what kind of depth they have behind Smith.
Smith explained, "Training camp is more for getting down the feel for playing with guys and your assignments and the checks, and I'm pretty confident in that, comfortable." Smith continued by noting, "I think it's a great opportunity for a lot of these young guys to get reps."
One of those guys in particular would be Tank Carradine. The Florida State product missed all of his rookie year last season due to a torn ACL. The Niner coaching staff, as well as Smith, has been optimistic with the younger defensive tackle's abilities, noting that Carradine has a lot of "explosiveness." If fully healthy and if Carradine develops accordingly, he could give Smith a breather or two during games, something the Niners have seen very few of over the years.
Smith is expected to see the practice field for the first time on Friday.
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