By Jerrell Richardson
The big question defensively for San Francisco as they get ready for the Green Bay Packers on Saturday is the status of Justin Smith. The defensive star has played a major role in the team’s success the past two seasons, and the quote out of 49ers camp, is that their most important player on the defensive side of the ball player “seems ready”. Although they could give a much more convincing statement, this is as good as it gets from Coach Harbaugh. Although little was said, it actually means a lot, as the response nobody wanted to hear is that he will not be able to play.
There is no doubt that the defense has struggled without their anchor up front. Justin Smith makes everyone around him better, and for a team that relies heavily on its defense, if Smith is unable to play, it would make the difficult task of beating the Green Bay Packers more daunting. With him coming back, so soon after such a devastating injury the question of how well he can play has continued to come up. There is of course no way to really know this, but it’s hard to imagine him being a liability and not a contributor to the teams success on Saturday.
Football can be just as much mental as physical, and having Smith back will provide the team with a huge mental boost. Like all phases of a team sport, defense is about cohesion and by removing such an important piece it would be unfair to expect the defense to play like they are not missing a Pro Bowler. Something clearly was wrong with Aldon Smith who looked nothing like his former self in the final games of the season without his partner in crime. By simply setting foot on the field, Just Smith will help crank up a defense that already has the ability to physically dominate their opponent. So taking aside the emotion, how will he play?
He may not be 100%, but his impact on the field will be close to the same before suffering his injury. A torn triceps’ can spell the end to a career, but it was a partial tear, occurred on December 16th, and this is Justin Smith. He has had close to a month to heal, and although he will need off season surgery, should be able to make his presence felt on the stat sheet and not just in the minds of his teammates. The injury will of course decrease what he can do with his arm, but his game has never really been about finesse, and when it comes down to it, he should be able to make a difference with only one arm. Ray Lewis played just last week, with about the same time to rest, and he had a more serious tear. Smith will not have nearly the same needs of his arm as Lewis would throughout the game, and with Lewis playing well, there is nothing that would indicate Smith, who is one of the toughest players in the NFL can’t have the same impact as Lewis with his play.
Just knowing that Justin Smith is back will add a spark to the entire 49er team, and an emotional lift can be just what the team needs to get past a talented Packers opponent. With Smith back on the field, San Francisco can at least say that they have everyone on the field. He might not be completely healthy, but it would be a shame to play this game in which so much pressure will be on the defense without their most valuable player on the field. Even at 75% he is better then most at his position, and will allow San Francisco to head into battle with a little more confidence, then they would be with him on the sidelines.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.