The injury caused Justin Smith to miss the last two games of the regular year and broke his 185-game consecutive-games streak. But having undergone surgery to repair the tear in his upper arm following the Super Bowl, Smith said he was close to being 100 percent and will be ready when training camp kicks off at the end of July.
"You realize it can be taken from you at any time. I hadn't been hurt for 12 years prior…you realize what that side of it's like. You realize what some of those guys are going through. It's tough," Smith said before Wednesday's second day of mandatory minicamp.
During the 49ers' offseason program, Smith hasn't participated and drills but has worked out on the side. He said his strength almost all the way back, and head coach Jim Harbuagh mentioned Smith has been putting up 350 pounds on the bench press regularly.
When asked if he could play in a game in his current condition, Smith's response was a quick "Oh yeah."
The 33-year-old Smith and 49ers are approaching a crossroad. He's an unrestricted free agent after the season and his apparent replacement might have already been added to the roster when San Francisco drafted Tank Carradine in the second round. His value to the team since his arrival in 2008 has been greater than perhaps any other player.
"I think at my point in my career, nothing's a given. Nothing's a guarantee. They don't like old guys anyway for football. I'm going to enjoy this year, do the best I can this year, and hopefully it's enough for us and the team to get it done," Smith said.
With an incoming draft class featuring players like Carradine, Quinton Dial and Corey Lemonier, there's reason to believe coordinator Vic Fangio's defense will be apt to rotate more players in the front seven this year. For the last two seasons, San Francisco has relied almost exclusively on their starters and saw them wear down considerably after going deep into the playoffs, twice.
Even so, Fangio wasn't quick to give away snaps to the incoming rookies on his defensive front.
"That's a possibility. But, those guys have to earn the right to be allowed to be put in the game. You just don't platoon guys just for the sake of platooning them. You don't want to go down in the quality of your play just for the sake of playing guys," Fangio said.
"The guys you're alluding to haven't practiced yet, and I don't know when they'll be able to practice. So, whatever contributions they can make is really up in the air yet."
Along with the rookies, the 49ers added veteran lineman Glen Dorsey to join incumbents Ray McDonald, Ian Williams, Demarcus Dobbs, and Will Tukuafu along the defensive front. Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois left via free agency to the Eagles and Colts, respectively.