It is quite fitting that the 49ers unveiled a new alternate jersey for this season, because 2015 is going to be “the new look 49ers”. This week, defensive star Justin Smith announced his retirement after 14 pretty fantastic seasons. Those seasons included five Pro-Bowls, three All-Pro defender honors, and only three missed games out of the possible 224. Those seasons included playing all of 2013 with a piece of shoulder bone broken and lodged in the back of his left shoulder. Justin Smith not only changed the game by being on the field, but he set a precedent for work ethic and toughness off of it.
Of all the 49ers’ defensive retirements this offseason, which included Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, Justin Smith’s was the least surprising. But, like Willis, Smith feels he doesn’t have the tools to compete at a high level anymore, and I respect that.
“When you get on the bald tires, you’re on the bald tires … it was just time for me to move on,” Smith said.
With the losses of Smith and Willis, San Francisco has lost two of its strongest leaders and talents. Pair that with a new coach and mainly new staff, new defensive faces, and new offensive faces, and this team is not the team we saw under the Jim Harbaugh era. Most 49ers fans think 2015 is going to be a disaster, and most everyone thinks this team will be lucky to go 8-8 again.
But I’m going to paint a different picture. I’m going to look at 2015 as an opportunity; an opportunity for everyone step up.
Colin Kaepernick and Navorro Bowman have the opportunity to seize this moment and become the leaders their teammates need them to be. Arik Armstead has the opportunity to work really hard in training camp and break out as a rookie defensive star. DeAndre Smelter, when healthy, has the opportunity to take those 11 inch hands and make big catches that become touchdowns. Carlos Hyde has the opportunity to take all he learned from Frank Gore and shine. And last, but not least, Jim Tomsula has the opportunity to prove everyone wrong, because every head coach is a first time head coach at some point, and why shouldn’t he be good at it?
Smith, aka “the Cowboy”, has high hopes for his former defensive line coach in his new position.
“This guy is a cerebral guy. He knows the game inside and out — offensively and defensively. Half the time we’re talking defense in our defensive meeting rooms, we’re talking about how the offense is trying to attack us,” Smith told CSN Bay Area. “So he’s got good knowledge of what the offense is trying to do — special teams, all of it. We got a great coach and he’s going to do fine and it’s going to be fun to watch it… I have all the faith in the world in Jimmy T.”
So there you have it 49ers’ fans. We’re going to be just fine come Sept. 14, 2015. Well, who knows if we will or we won’t, but it’s a lot more fun to think we will.
In the meantime, Farewell Cowboy. Thank you for literally giving the 49ers everything you had for seven awesome seasons, and for going out how you played, with toughness, with class, and with leadership. Go Niners!
What are some of your favorite Justin Smith memories? Do you think the 49ers will surprise everyone in 2015? Comment below!