Justin Smith knows his priorities


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.


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.

Colts fire GM Ryan Grigson after five seasons

Colts fire GM Ryan Grigson after five seasons

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ryan Grigson spent tens of millions in free agency, trying to turn the Indianapolis Colts into a Super Bowl contender.

When most of those big investments went belly up, the first-time general manager paid the price.

On Saturday, Colts owner Jim Irsay fired Grigson after five up-and-down years that ended with Indy missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.

"It was a tough decision, well thought out and in the end the right decision for the Colts," Irsay said.

Initially, Grigson looked like a genius.

He hit it big on his first four draft picks - quarterback Andrew Luck, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and receiver T.Y. Hilton - and used a series of shrewd, cost-effective moves to deliver one of the greatest turnarounds in league history.

But when Grigson's costly misfires like first-round bust Bjoern Werner in 2013, trading a first-round pick for Trent Richardson in 2014 or loading up on a group of aging, high-priced free agents to make a Super Bowl run in 2015 and an anxious fan base, Irsay had no choice.

The timing, almost three weeks after the season ended, was strange - and comes after many thought the delay meant Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano were both safe.

Each agreed to contracts last January that was supposed to keep them together through the 2019 season.

Thirteen months later, Grigson is gone and Pagano's fate may rest in the hands of a new GM.

Grigson, by trade, was a gambler who refused to play it safe.

"I think the guys that sit on their hands, they've got to live with themselves and look in the mirror and realize they didn't take any chances," he once said. "They've got to look at themselves and say, 'Did I even deserve this opportunity?' If you just sit on your hands and say, 'I'm going to play it safe all the time,' you might be middle of the pack. But if you don't take a swing, you're never going to hit it out of the park."

Irsay appreciated Grigson's unconventional style and penchant for taking chances.

What he didn't like was the underwhelming payout.

In five seasons, Grigson made 15 trades for players and only one, Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis, played in Indy's season finale. Grigson also drafted 38 players - 18 of whom finished the season with the Colts. Eleven were out of the NFL.

Then there was free agency, where Grigson signed dozens of expensive players. Only 11 were still on Indy's roster when the season ended, 18 others were out of the NFL.

With an estimated $60 million to spend in free agency this year and a chance to get the Colts righted for the prime years of Luck's career, Irsay couldn't afford to roll the dice again with Grigson so he made the change.

The 44-year-old Purdue graduate's blunt personality didn't always mesh with coach Chuck Pagano. Irsay even acknowledged last summer that the two men needed to resolve their differences before he gave them the extensions.

Players didn't always get along with him, either.

"Thank God. 'Unwarranted Arrogance' just ran into a brick wall called karma," Pro Bowl punter Pat McAfee posted on Twitter after word first leaked.

Grigson also drew the wrath of Patriots' fans by tipping off NFL officials that Tom Brady was using improperly inflated footballs during the 2015 AFC championship game. The Deflategate controversy eventually led to a four-game suspension for Brady as well as a fine and the loss draft picks for the Patriots.

And despite Irsay's repeated pleas to better protect Luck, Grigson, a former offensive lineman, never quite figured it out.

Luck missed 10 games because of injuries over the past two seasons and was sacked 41 times last season. The first real glimmer of hope appeared in December when the Colts held Minnesota and Oakland without a sack in back-to back games - the only times all season they didn't allow a sack.

When Grigson arrived, the Colts were coming off a 2-14 season and were about to release Peyton Manning and several other aging veterans in a salary cap purge.

So Grigson cleaned house.

He fired Jim Caldwell, hired Pagano and revamped the roster with low-budget free agents to work with the cornerstone of the future, Luck.

It worked. The man once dubbed by a previous boss as a "great" expansion team general manager, turned the Colts into a surprising 11-5 playoff-bound team.

Indy finished 11-5 each of the next two seasons, too, and advanced one step deeper in the playoffs each season.

The steady progression turned the Colts into a trendy Super Bowl pick in 2015, a trek that was derailed by a litany of injuries that forced the Colts to use five different quarterbacks just to finish 8-8.

Waiting for Shanahan could be a good thing for 49ers

Waiting for Shanahan could be a good thing for 49ers

The 49ers were willing to be patient in securing their next head coach.

Depending on the outcome of the Atlanta Falcons’ game Sunday against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game, they could be required to wait another two weeks.

The other five organizations with vacancies after the regular season have filled their head-coach positions with four assistants from teams that did not qualify for the playoffs and former Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, whom the Denver Broncos hired after his team was bounced in the AFC wild-card round.

Early in the 49ers’ search to replace Chip Kelly, the top targets appeared to be Josh McDaniels and Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinators for two of the top-three scoring teams in the NFL.

The coach-general manager team of McDaniels and New England Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio was the runaway favorite to be the package deal, according to sources close to the 49ers’ coaching search.

But when Caserio chose to remain as Bill Belichick’s top personnel lieutenant – just has he has in the past when other opportunities presented themselves – the job became less attractive to McDaniels, according to those sources. McDaniels announced on Monday he would remain with the Patriots for at least another year.

With McDaniels out of the picture, Shanahan became the clear favorite over Seattle assistant Tom Cable. And once Cable publicly stepped aside due to suspicions he was only being used to secure a commitment from Shanahan, only one candidate remained for the job.

Since the middle of this week, Shanahan has been the presumptive coach of the 49ers. Falcons coach Dan Quinn was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator two years ago when he was officially hired just hours after the Super Bowl. He knows he drill. And this week he announced to the Falcons staff that Shanahan would be the next coach of the 49ers, according to the NFL Network.

Regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s game, the 49ers will be allowed to interview Shanahan next week – most likely, Tuesday in Atlanta. Shanahan will be involved in the process to hire the next general manager. Minnesota assistant general manager George Paton appears to be the favorite. The 49ers expect the general manager position to be filled early in the week.

If the Falcons lose, the 49ers would be able to hire Shanahan on their own time frame. It would not be expected to take long.

But if the Falcons win, the 49ers would have to wait until after Feb. 5, when the Super Bowl will be played in Houston, to hire Shanahan.

There is an advantage to being forced to wait. In the long term, the 49ers could benefit from their next head coach gaining the experience of a Super Bowl week and calling a game on the biggest stage in all of sports.