The 49ers' Justin Smith generally is the strong, silent type who prefers to lead in the locker room by example.
But he said a few words at the team's minicamp Thursday that spoke volumes.
The time for the 49ers, Smith said, is now.
"The mindset I have is that your team isn't going to be stacked forever," said Smith, 32, a standout defensive lineman who is entering his 12th NFL season. "You have certain windows. Is this our window for the next two or three years? I wouldn't necessarily say that. But with the guys we have now and with free agency, we're not going to be able to keep this team together forever. I'm stressing that we're not building, so let's go get it this year."
The 49ers, who reached the NFC Championship game last season, should be one of the trendy picks to be a Super Bowl contender this year. And Smith made it clear that the team is ready to embrace those high expectations when training camp opens next month.
"That's our goal," Smith said. "But teams aren't going to give us a 'W' for just walking out there. We're going to get everybody's best game this year. We're going to have to play even better than last year just to have the same success. But we know that and are prepared to do that."
Smith was echoing a sentiment expressed by tight end Vernon Davis a day earlier, when he said the 49ers like the idea of being the hunted instead of the hunter.
"We can pick up where we left off," Davis said. "Each
For his part, Smith believes that the 49ers' front office also thinks the window of opportunity is wide open when it brought back all 11 defensive starters and made free-agent additions such as wide receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham.
"They won't tell you that," Smith added. "But I'm sure they feel the same way. They're thinking: 'Let's hammer this thing home.' "
As for the talented but controversial Moss, Smith said he has been nothing like his reputation and has fit in well with the 49ers' low-key locker room.
"We really don't have any of the gigantic egos," he said. "Some of the best players in there are the most down to earth guys and solid guys. Randy had all these questions. What's he like? Well he's been one of the coolest guys and hardest working guys I've ever met."
While the majority of the 49ers' defense is young, Smith acknowledged that the clock is ticking on his own career. But he doesn't feel like he's slowing down yet and still dislikes ever coming off the field. This is a guy who played in 91 percent of the team's defensive snaps last year en route to making 58 tackles and recording 71/2 sacks.
"I figure I've got three more good years in me, four more good years," he said. "I don't want to be the third-down guy and play 17 (snaps). Time is of the essence for me. We've got a young defense, but I think everyone feels the urgency. We've got the guys right now. So let's not wait."
Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.