Smiley will be an anchor and a half

May 15, 2004 at 12:00 AM

In round two of the 2004 NFL draft the San Francisco 49ers did something that wasn't normal. They selected an offensive lineman with the 46th overall pick in Alabama's Justin Smiley. This is a man that will undoubtedly have a positive impact upon our offensive line. A line that is being prepared to face legendary onslaughts from elite linebackers and defensive linemen like never before because speed to attacking the quarterback and stuffing the run has been elevated to a new level.

When you think about great offensive lines in the NFL, one has to think about the San Francisco 49ers. But let me tell you that they aren't thought about all that often. Because these are the guys that win the wars in the trenches and get very little to no recogniti0on for what they do. It is San Francisco's offensive line that helped pave the road to glory for our beloved franchise.

Legendary creator, general manager, head coach and consultant Bill Walsh will tell you himself that if not for offensive line coach and guru Bob McKittrick and his magical ability to create talent and expertise out of nameless players. This franchise wouldn't have five Vince Lombardi trophies to talk about today. Neither would they have had any of the present success they have today when you think of names like: Harris Barton, Ray Brown, Chris Dalman, Derrick Deese, Guy McIntyre, Jeremy Newberry and Jessie Sapolu.

This is a spiritual group and a group that has done the dirty work in manufacturing running yardage and has protected the quarterbacks of legends in Joe Montana, Steve Young and just recently Jeff Garcia. It is this line that great accountability falls upon in protecting now injured and rehabilitating quarterback Tim Rattay and possibly Ken Dorsey. It is also a known science with Garrison Hearst now a Denver Bronco that it is this line's sworn duty to create holes and lanes for new starting running back Kevan Barlow and his new back-up in Jamal Robertson.

The exodus of great offensive linemen has been made this off-season in San Francisco as they struggle to keep their collective feet out of salary cap flooding. General Manager Terry Donahue has set a new course into even more uncharted waters in this salary cap showdown in purging the roster of high profile athletes and replacing them with green and growing ones to lower the collective overhead the team is drowning from today.

Left tackle Derrick Deese one of the best left tackles in the business today and never allowing a quarterback sack over 35 games was let go and is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was replaced with second year Kwame Harris who has seen limited playing time and took a number of lumps last year while filling in.

His task will be enormous as he will be faced with some of the most ferocious defensive ends in the business and it will be his job to defend and protect a less mobile quarterback in Tim Rattay or even Ken Dorsey. Harris is the future at this position and I'm confident that he will conform to the overall duties of this invaluable position. He is a lineman that has tremendous strength and a nasty streak when he needs to draw from it.

On the right side the 49ers let All Pro right guard Ron Stone go after he refused to take a pay cut and he is now right across the Bay with the Oakland Raiders. He was an anchor for the line despite his many injuries and helped open lanes with fellow teammate right tackle Scott Gragg for Barlow and Hearst.

Kyle Kosier was called upon last year and he played fairly well when his opportunities arose and will now battle to keep his job from Alabama's best in Justin Smiley. He will have his hands full because Smiley plans on winning every contest in training camp and throughout pre-season. Don't be surprised to see Smiley as the starting right guard and Kosier playing a support role or rotating role at best.

"They have a history of having great offensive linemen here, young offensive linemen, and coming in where I'm at, wherever they put me at. I'm just going to play to the best of my ability and se where the chips fall."

Smiley has great credentials earning accolades from Playboy, College Football, the Sporting News, CNNSI .com and the Associated Press. He stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 293-pounds. He is an outstanding drive blocker and has superb power and incredible quickness to boot. This three-year starter holds Alabama's weight=room record in the hang clean with a 415-pound lift.

He is a two-time recipient of the Crimson Tide's Sylvester Cromm Commitment to Excellence Award and won the Mal Moore Leadership Award as a junior. What is even more interesting is that he was a great anchor on Alabama's offensive line; he started 36 games (including 2001 Independence Bowl) for Alabama and never allowed a quarterback sack during his collegiate career.

He is a three-time All-America selection and became a starter at Alabama after red shirting his freshman year. What was even more accomplishing was that Smiley played under four different coaches, which translates into four different philosophies, during his tenure with the Crimson Tide.

He is a very emotional player, and he commands respect from teammates and opponents alike. He does this through his superior strength and his intense desire to win at all costs. To me this is a guy that rivals a Jeremy Newberry and will be a workhorse of unprecedented nature. We are fortunate to have such a fine specimen of a football athlete at our fingertips and I'm confident he'll make an immediate impact as a rookie.

"I think I'm a complete player," he says. "I'm an adequate run blocker and get good movement, but I think I'm a better pass protector. I feel like I'm an excellent puller and I am good at traps and stutters and Power O's and stuff like that."

When you think about this you wonder should Kwame Harris struggle as the left tackle why not insert Justin Smiley? The record speaks for itself folks when you think about it? This is a guy that will be versatile and efficient wherever you put him. He will give 101% of himself every time and will break a sweat doing it.

Everyone knows what your opponent will do when studying you on film. They will seek out your weakness and attack you on it. The same can be said as well in college football, although maybe to a lesser degree. Smiley has been an advocate to high school linemen giving them advice to reach the next level by truly dedicating themselves to building strength and gaining technique. Before any of that, however, they need to achieve the proper mindset.

San Francisco's offensive line coach Gregg Smith has said that offensive lineman Justin Smiley fits perfectly into their overall game plan. The 49ers had a high need for an offensive lineman after the free agent losses of some very prominent players. The offensive line will be transformed in a lot of ways with a mixture of experience and talented youth.

"He's a guy that has been Alabama's top offensive lineman for the past three years," Smith said. "His trademarks are number one, his athleticism; he's just an incredibly athletic guy. And number two is his intensity. He's an extremely fierce football player."

When you think of who Smiley probably faced in college the first one that comes to mind is Oklahoma's elite defensive tackle Tommie Harris who was chosen in the first round with the 14th overall pick.

"They played the Sooners early in the year and Smiley matched up very well against Harris," Gregg Smith said. "And let me say this; Tommie didn't ever beat him." Justin Smiley is all about the team as well. He is very team oriented and doing what is in the best interests of the group. He will be a stabilizing force in the locker room if not a motivational force as well. We very well could have drafted the best offensive lineman that was available in this draft in my opinion.

Alabama's Justin Smiley drafted 14th in the second round and 46th overall

Smiley stands 6-foot-4 and weighs approximately 308-pounds. He has been clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.90 and has been compared to Brian Waters of the Kansas City Chiefs. Run Blocking: He isn't a massive mauler but he is extremely efficient. He is a tactician and understands angles and will study his opponent's tendencies. He has great initial pop and is both mobile and athletic. He performs pulling and trapping to a science and he has another level inside himself to hit a moving target.

Pass Blocking: Is a bit less polished here. But he is still very effective, just needs a bit more leverage. He does have the initial quickness to cement his position against one-gap penetrating defensive tackles. He displays a decent punch and good reach. He is an adequate anchor against the bull rush and is rarely knocked back on his heels. He is scrappy and will resort to fist fighting to prevent his guy from getting to the quarterback.

Initial quickness: Just needs more consistent leverage when he comes out of his stance. But he has excellent initial quickness. He is rarely beaten by first-step quickness. Strength: He has good lower-strength, but is even stronger up top. Must add a little more bulk to improve his base. He has good arm and hand strength. He performs well in locking on with his upper body and driving his legs as a run blocker. He does control defensive tackles at the point of attack with solid hand placement.

Mobility: He is very athletic and agile. He in fact is one of the fastest offensive linemen in this class. He is excellent on both screens and downfield blocks. Bottom line: He is a tireless and dedicated worker. The San Francisco 49ers have obtained a gem of a lineman in that he will give them his very best right from the outset. Justin Smiley began his career in football by registering 133 knockdown blocks as a freshman. He followed up that level of performance with one incredible sophomore year, posting 177 knockdown blocks. In 2002, including 18 in one game against the Tennessee Volunteers. Justin started 35 games in his three-year career at Alabama.

This is one blessed offensive lineman folks. One that will give San Francisco a winning chance whenever it steps out on the field, he plays with a mean streak and is always on the lookout for secondary targets to hit.

Alabama offensive line coach Bob Connelly, a nine-year coaching veteran with stops at Texas A&M, San Jose State and Washington State, said: "As far as intensity and athletic ability and strength, all of the things you want your linemen to possess, he possesses. He plays the game at another level."

Pat Kirwan of NFL.Com had this to say about Smiley: "In a poll of nine offensive line coaches, Smiley was the No. 1 guard. He is extremely athletic, can run under 5.0 on the 40-yard dash. He can pull, he can trap, and he has a nasty streak. I wasn't alone when I had him as a first-round pick, so the 49ers got one of the best value picks in the draft."

Hands down this says a lot about the San Francisco 49ers. I am proud of this selection although others would've preferred someone else. The offensive line is such an overlooked and overworked unit. These are the guys that play throughout the season injured or not, Jeremy Newberry is a perfect example of that intensity and mentality. We owe this line some time and to inject it with some needed talent.

Certainly Kwame Harris and Justin Smiley are steps in that direction. I can see our running game staying productive and the pass protection improving over time. It is the offensive line folks that enable this team to score and score often. We need these men everyday and on every play, and I can assure you Smiley will be one of those injured linemen that says "lets go get them."
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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