Justin Smith’s nickname is Cowboy. Now we know it could also be Superman or the Hulk.
Pick your favorite superhero.
When the 49ers’ veteran defensive lineman reported for training camp Wednesday he revealed that he played all of last season with a shoulder injury suffered in training camp. He played 16 regular-season games and three more in the postseason all as, basically, a 1½-armed defender.
After injuring the shoulder in the summer, he made the decision to play through the season and have surgery afterward. Now he says he’s again 100 percent.
Even playing without his full strength, Smith, 34, had 6½ sacks and again played a big role in the 49ers’ 3-4 scheme. Yet Smith knew the injury cost him effectiveness.
“You use your arms in football quite a bit,” he told the Bay Area media Wednesday. “It was what it was. Hey, they can fix you, so that’s a good thing.”
As Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee noted, Smith had a solid year coming back from a torn triceps that had hindered him late in the 2012 season and in the team’s run to the Super Bowl. But NFL analysts had seen a dropoff in his play. Pro Football Focus gave Smith a terrific +50.5 grade in the 2011 season, for instance, but it was just +8.1 in 2013, Barrows reported.
Now, however, Smith is eager to get going on a season that is the final one on his contract. He’s now surrounded by a deep and young group of linemen who could allow Smith to take a few downs off every game and keep him fresh for the long haul.
And with two healthy shoulders, Smith will take the practice field for the first time in training camp Friday for what could be his final season in San Francisco.
“I’m playing this year,” he told the media. “That’s all I’m focused on. I feel a lot healthier than I did last year. I feel a lot better.”