Insider analysis: Marvel Smith

What kind of character does Marvel Smith, the 49ers' new starting right tackle, bring to the team? Steelers expert Jim Wexell of, author of "Steeler Nation: A Pittsburgh Team, An American Phenomenon," describes Smith as a "ticking time bomb" and "nasty brawler" who is a "great left tackle" but that his "back problems aren't behind him." Get the inside scoop on Smith here.

Jim Wexell, and author of Steeler Nation: A Pittsburgh Team, An American Phenomenon: OK, here's a quick story to give you some insight into Marvel Smith's character.

Jeff Reed is the team jester and until former coach Bill Cowher pulled the plug, he used to kick balls around the locker room. His specialty was nailing reporters in the head, but he wasn't consumed by only reporters. He just liked to jack around.

I'd watch as I steered clear of that half of the room, and one time Reed and his pals nailed Casey Hampton. Hampton turned around and looked like he was going to explode, but he only laughed.

I asked Reed about it. "Aw, Hamp's a big puppy dog," Reed said. "The guy we don't want to hit is Marvel Smith. You don't mess around with Marvel."

Yes, Marvel is a ticking time bomb. He's softened over the years, but the dude grew up in hardscrabble Oakland and is one nasty brawler. He is the guy no one wants mad at them.

It's probably good that young Marvel used to smoke weed because it probably kept him calm. As you might know, he came into the league with teams having known he had it in his system after a college test, and then got busted while with the Steelers.

Marvel isn't the kind who talks much, and he used to get frustrated easily when reporters would ask the same questions, and you could see that time bomb ticking.

On the field, Marvel used to be a great left tackle. He was physical and finesse at the same time. Some will say he's a natural right tackle because that's how he entered the league, but that's bunk. He's a left tackle through and through.

His back problems aren't behind him. In January, he was telling me how good he felt and he dropped a pencil. He couldn't bend over, he only squatted down to pick it up and was in obvious discomfort.

I'm surprised any team would take on his potential medical problems. There is an obvious upside, but the bills will now be sent to the 49ers and not the Steelers.

People get fired in the Steeelers' organization for taking on such medical risks. People think a mere incentives-laden contract is the only financial risk, and those are good-news/bad-news situations, but not so with medical conditions.

Also, he was a Raiders fan growing up, and his Big Brother in Oakland, Frank Pare, whom Marvel cited to me as his mentor, says he thinks Marvel is still a Raiders fan.

I don't want to paint a picture that he's a lunatic, because we developed a decent relationship over the years. But that gives you a side you probably won't know about.

Craig Massei's take: A lunatic ticking time bomb who's one nasty brawler? Hey, the 49ers and their offensive line can use a guy like that. Having a Mr. Mean around the locker room won't hurt the 49ers one bit, and Smith fills an obvious need for a quality veteran tackle who can fill San Francisco's void on the right side opposite the team's promising young left tackle, Joe Staley. It's not out of the question that Smith, if he merits it once he joins the team for spring and summer workouts, could man the left side for a while if he still is at the top of his game, moving Staley back to the right side for the time being. Either way, his presence promises to give the 49ers their best set of starting tackles since the last time the team had a winning record, which is now more than a half-decade ago for those counting. Smith's presence also allows the team to draft a tackle after the first round that it can develop to eventually replace him in the future, giving the team more flexibility with what it can do with its No. 10 overall selection in the first round. Jim's account of Smith's back problems are a bit disconcerting, and back problems are definitely a real issue, but every NFL player is just one hit away from being a medical problem. The 49ers did their homework on Smith and gave him a thorough physical on March 18, and Smith's agent says Smith's back problems are behind him and he is feeling fine and raring to go. Smith also says he is tickled to be coming back home to play in his former stomping grounds, and although he might be a Raiders fan at heart, what kind of self-respecting quality pro like Smith would want to be finishing his career with the Raiders right now anyway? Smith's nasty attitude fits in perfectly with the kind of persona coach Mike Singletary is attempting to cultivate around the 49ers' offensive line in particular and the team in general, and if he can approach his former performance with the Steelers – where he was a nine-year starter and Pro Bowler after the 2004 season – then he will be a great pickup for the 49ers and give them a cornerstone that could push them over the top on offense, which could finally push them over the hump as a team.

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