Justin Smith knows his priorities

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Justin Smith knows his priorities

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.

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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?

Interview over.

49ers offense: Top competitions entering training camp

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AP

49ers offense: Top competitions entering training camp

The 49ers open training camp next week in Santa Clara with a number of competitions going on simultaneously on both sides of the ball.

Coach Kyle Shanahan did not hire an offensive coordinator. He will assume the role of running the offense, as he atempts to remake the 49ers' offense to his specifications.

Brian Hoyer is set at quarterback. Joe Staley will line up at left tackle. Kyle Juszcyzk was signed as the highest-priced fullback in the NFL, and the starting wide receivers figure to be Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin.

After that, things are a lot less certain.

Here is a look at the 49ers’ top four training camp battles on offense...

INTERIOR O-LINE
The tackle positions appear straight-forward with Staley and Trent Brown – though Brown will have to hold off Garry Gilliam to retain his starting job.

But there are a lot of options for the 49ers at the three interior positions. Zane Beadles started all 16 games last season at three different positions. He enters camp as the front-runner to start at left guard.

Jeremy Zuttah, who was added to the Pro Bowl roster at center last season, came to the 49ers in an offseason trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Zuttah and Daniel Kilgore will compete for the starting job. Tim Barnes, who started 32 games the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, is in the mix, too.

If Zuttah is not the starting center, he can transition to either guard position to compete with Beadles on the left side or, more likely, the right side.

Joshua Garnett, whom former 49ers general manager Trent Baalke traded up to select in the first round of the 2016 draft, will have to show dramatic improvement over his rookie season to return as the starter at right guard.

Brandon Fusco, who spent his first six NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, started 16 games at left guard in 2015 and 14 games last season at right guard.

TIGHT END
It is within the realm of possibility the 49ers could have a complete overhaul at tight end, as none of the five players who finished the season with the team is a lock to win a roster spot.

The 49ers selected George Kittle in the fifth round. He showed a lot of promise with the best showing of any tight end during the team’s offseason program. The 49ers this offseason also added blocking tight end Logan Paulsen, who has experience in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, and undrafted rookie pass-catcher Cole Hikutini.

Vance McDonald was the subject of trade talks during the draft – just months after signing a contract extension with $9.1 million in guaranteed money. Garrett Celek and Blake Bell also face stiff competition in order to be back on the 53-man roster.

RUNNING BACK
Carlos Hyde is entering the final year of his original four-year contract, and he has competition for the first time since Frank Gore’s exit cleared the way for him to be the featured back.

Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner handpicked former Utah running back Joe Williams for their scheme. Williams got off to a slow start after joining the offseason program, but he eventually put himself into a position to compete for a significant role in training camp.

Veteran additions Tim Hightower and Kapri Bibbs will be competing for roles in the backfield, as well. Undrafted rookie Matt Breida had an impressive offseason during the non-padded practices.

SLOT RECEIVER
Jeremy Kerley was one of the few free agents from last year’s team that the 49ers had any interest in re-signing. Kerley was the best receiver on the team a year ago -- and it wasn’t even close. He caught 64 passes for 667 yards for the league's least-productive passing game.

The 49ers selected Trent Taylor in the fifth round, and he made an immediate impact during the offseason program after catching 136 passes for 1,803 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior at Louisiana Tech.

A year ago, Bruce Ellington was the 49ers’ best receiver during training camp before his season came to an abrupt end with a torn hamstring in an exhibition game. The onus is on Ellington to remain healthy and prove himself to the new coaching staff.

O.J. Simpson a free man, granted parole in Nevada

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AP

O.J. Simpson a free man, granted parole in Nevada

UPDATE (11am on Thursday) -- O.J. Simpson is a free man. The San Francisco native was granted his parole on Thursday by the Nevada Parole Board with a unanimous 4-0 decision. 

Simpson, who turned 70 this month, can be released from prison as early as Oct. 1 after armed robery charges put him away for almost nine years -- the minimum of a 33-year sentence. 

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LOVELOCK, Nev. -- O.J. Simpson once thrilled crowds as he ran for touchdowns and hurdled airport seats in car rental ads to achieve Hollywood celebrity before he was acquitted of murder in the 1995 "trial of the century" in Los Angeles.

Now, an aging Simpson will appear as inmate No. 1027820 in a starkly plain hearing room in a remote Nevada prison Thursday to plead for his freedom. He's spent more than eight years behind bars for armed robbery and assault with a weapon after trying to take back sports memorabilia in a budget hotel room in Las Vegas.

Simpson, 70, will ask four parole board members who sided with him once before to release him in October, a likely possibility with his clean prison record.

It will be a stunning scene for a charismatic star once known as "The Juice" who won the Heisman Trophy as the best U.S. college football player in 1968 and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.

He appeared to have it all.

He went on to star in Hertz commercials and movies like the "Naked Gun" comedies and do sideline reporting for "Monday Night Football" before his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman were slain in 1994.

Simpson is expected to reiterate that he has kept a promise to stay out of trouble, coaches in the prison gym where he works and counsels other inmates.

"I guess, my age, guys come to me," Simpson told parole officials four years ago.

The same commissioners granted him parole on some of his 12 charges in 2013, leaving him with four years to serve before reaching his minimum term.

At Simpson's side in his bid for freedom will be lawyer Malcolm LaVergne, close friend Tom Scotto, sister Shirley Baker and daughter Arnelle Simpson.

O.J. Simpson is expected to explain what he would do and where he would live if he is granted parole after reaching the nine-year minimum of his 33-year sentence.

He was convicted in 2008 after enlisting some men he barely knew, including two with guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier.

"My crime was trying to retrieve for my family my own property," Simpson told the parole officials in 2013 before apologizing.

"Make no mistake, I would give it all back," he said, "to get these last five years back."

The items disappeared after Simpson was found not guilty in the 1994 killings of his ex-wife and her friend and before he was found liable in 1997 in civil court for the deaths.

He was ordered to pay $33.5 million to survivors including his children and the Goldman family.

A Goldman family spokesman said Ron Goldman's father and sister, Fred and Kim, won't be part of Simpson's parole hearing but that they felt apprehensive about "how this will change their lives again should Simpson be released."

"They will remain patient and optimistic that the system will do what is necessary to ensure the public's safety remains a priority and that proper justice will be served," spokesman Michael Wright said this week.

The Goldmans believe Simpson got away with murder in Los Angeles, and many people felt the stiff sentence handed down in 2008 in Las Vegas wasn't just about the robbery.

Now, even the retired district attorney who prosecuted Simpson for the heist acknowledges that Simpson has a good chance to go free. But David Roger denied Simpson's sentence was "payback" for his acquittal in the Los Angeles slayings.

The former prosecutor said Simpson took a gamble when he rejected an offer to avoid trial by pleading guilty to a felony that could have gotten him 2½ years in prison.

"He thought he was invincible, and he rolled the dice," Roger said.