Former San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith is currently working and drinking beer on his Missouri farm, but he took a few minutes earlier this week to chat with the folks at KNBR. I’ve embedded the audio at the bottom, and also transcribed it.
As with any Cowboy interview, it’s pretty great. He talked about life and the farm and what he does not miss about football. He got into some talk about those great 49ers defenses, and what legacy he wanted to leave.
He was asked about the 49ers current defensive line, and he said he liked what Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner bring to the table. He has not seen a lot of them, but likes the physical traits they bring to the table. He did say he watched the team’s preseason opener and it looked like they were getting after it. He said a team could be built around guys like that.
And for those wondering, he is not going to join Charles Haley in contributing any coaching anytime soon. He said you could never say never, but he didn’t think he’d be looking to do any coaching for the near future.
The whole interview is a fun one. The read is good, but I recommend listening to it.
How retirement is treating him:
It’s good. Got a little farm out here in Missouri, so staying pretty busy. I like it, it’s a different type of work.
On not having to do the football workouts anymore:
Not so much the workouts. It’s this time of year, I’m just knowing what those guys are feeling. The hamstrings, the back, the neck, the back would always be so tight, breaking it back in getting used to hitting guys again. I’m not missing that part at all.
On the legacy he wanted to leave:
Well, I mean, I still talk to some of the guys back there, and it’s just, always about what you leave behind, the bar that was set. And I mean, the bar was set high from obviously the Niners when they were the dynasty, but guys like Bryant Young and stuff like that. You don’t want to let those type of guys down and how they played the game. And I think those guys are trying to emulate that, the defense that we had. Trying to get back to that. And I watched them in the preseason game, looked like they were flying around on defense, having a little fun and getting after it. Maybe they can start inching back towards that.
On mental preparation going into the game:
I didn’t have one. You had some guys who did certain stretches or warmups. Mind towards the end was, you kinda walk around the locker room, walk around outside, and just kind of work yourself up mentally. It’s all mental. To get ready to play, to try to whip somebody’s ass is basically what it comes down to. Techniques, this and that, but if you really watch tape, there’s a lot of really bad technique out there. It’s just guys getting after it, and using whatever they got to try to get the job done, and that’s about it all is.
On adjusting with rule changes:
Well yea, I mean my first three or four years in, you had three steps to the quarterback after he threw the football. I was always a day late, dollar short kind of guy anyways, but I got a lot of hits on the quarterback with three extra steps. When they started paying those guys all the money in the world, they shut that off. So that was hard at first, and then learning the strike zone. You basically have seven inches to hit a quarterback now. It’s gotten ridiculous, but that’s where the money is. They’re not gonna let those guys get hurt, they can’t.
On playing with Patrick Willis:
Just, those defenses we had, we had four or five of the top guys at their position, so it was kinda cool coming to work and seeing how those guys work. It made you raise your game, and Pat was definitely one of those type of guys. See how he went about his day, how dedicated he was, and how hard he worked. With his toe injury, and how much time he put into it, he kinda burned himself out a little bit because the dude went after it, training, mental preparation, all that stuff it takes to be great. He did it all.
On best opponents he faced:
Without doubt, Walter Jones was the best one I ever played against. That guy never even used his other arm to block him, he would just use his inside arm. That guy was ridiculous. He was so good. I’ll never forget a play, we were playing in Seattle, they have those boxes in the end zone there, and they’re trying to score and right before they snap the ball, he’s waving at his kids up in the box, and I’m like, you gotta be freaking kidding me. This guy’s like talking to his wife and kids … I mean, wasn’t even looking at me. That’s kinda depressing.
On Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner:
Well, I got a chance to watch the preseason game. The obvious things are there, the size of both of those guys, the height, the leverage, the arm length. Haven’t seen Armstead really play that much, but they’re saying he’s tearing it up at camp. So I think they can really, if those guys keep progressing and really working hard, you know, you can built a team around those type of guys. And definitely seems that’s what they’re trying to do, build it through the line. You kinda see some teams change their philosophy, Dallas is one, just let’s get the lines better. And that’s what it looks like Trent’s trying to do.
On quarterback he enjoyed sacking:
Well, all of them. I was never a big sack guy, so if I got one I was liking it. But it’s always the top guys. You want to sack those guys, and kinda wipe the smile off their faces. It’s almost like everything’s going too good for those dudes. So guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, you got a little something extra in your tank trying to knock those guys around a little bit. Those would be three of them … you try to lay into them a little bit heavier, put an elbow in the gut when you’re getting up. But yea, those top line guys, it’s always good to put a whack on them.
On what the Chip Kelly offense means to the defense:
Well, it all depends. If they’re going three and out all the time, as a defensive player you’re not liking it at all. I mean you’re constantly on the field. Not only that, it makes you look bad. The other team’s constantly getting more attempts at the ball, and racking yards up and getting more plays off. But, you know, if it works and they’re scoring, you make the other team one-dimensional, you know they gotta start passing. If that up-tempo’s working, you’re putting points up, then all of a sudden, their offense has to go to all passing game, you can really get after the quarterback. So, it’s all gonna depend on the success they have with it, if a defender would like that or not.
On Charles Haley and if he might come back to coach as well:
You know, I’d say never say never. But as far as coaching, I just don’t see it right now. Maybe 8-to-10 years down the road, I could maybe, but then your windows are kinda shut to what you can get in and do. But I don’t know. Right now I can’t see coaching … I’m liking the farm life. I’m getting back, slowing back down, doing some mowing.
On if he mows, kicks back:
No, I mean we put up a lot of hay and stuff like that. We’re probably gonna get some animals, some cattle and stuff before too long. So, I mean, always out doing stuff, hardly ever sit inside, but I’m liking it.
On better than living in California:
Yea, you could probably get a hundred acres here that would be the price of a chair up there. So that’s not bad either.
On who he would start for 49ers at QB:
Uhhh, I’ve been around both of those guys. The guys like both of them, but, one thing about the NFL, there’s no politics, there’s none of that. Sometimes it can come down to money and what the front office, but it’s the best guy is gonna play. The best guy that’s gonna give you a chance to win games, and that hasn’t really played itself out yet. Is it gonna be Blaine who can put them in the end zone? Is it gonna be Kaepernick? I don’t know.
On which of the two he’d rather hit more as defensive lineman:
Both of them. We’re pretty simple animals on that side of the ball. If we see a guy that can score, we’ll hit ‘em all.