49ers: 5 players who will have bigger roles in 2018

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 24: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers congratulates Jimmy Garoppolo #10 after a one-yard touchdown run against the Jacksonville Jaguars during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 24: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers congratulates Jimmy Garoppolo #10 after a one-yard touchdown run against the Jacksonville Jaguars during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images) /
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SAN DIEGO, CA – OCTOBER 25: Malcolm Smith #53 of the Oakland Raiders returns his interception during the first quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on October 25, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA – OCTOBER 25: Malcolm Smith #53 of the Oakland Raiders returns his interception during the first quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on October 25, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

No. 1: ILB Malcolm Smith

The first 49ers game I actually watched was the NFC Championship against the Seahawks in 2014. I didn’t know anything about football at the time, but a friend had told me to watch and I wanted to support my home team, so I watched.

And to this day, nothing hurts more than seeing Malcolm Smith intercept Kaepernick’s ball in the end zone to stamp a Super Bowl ticket for the Seahawks.

Super Bowl MVP and two years with the Raiders later, Smith is now on the 49ers. I was conflicted when John Lynch signed him in free agency because of complaints from my Raiders friends about how he was a liability, but he had a great training camp. Unfortunately, he tore his pectoral during the open practice and was placed on injured reserve.

Smith should slide into the starting lineup next season alongside Reuben Foster in coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense, with the two commanding the middle of the field. Inside linebacker Brock Coyle, who has been impressive in Smith’s absence, should rotate with Smith on passing downs.

Next: 3 reasons why the 49ers make the playoffs in 2018

With Smith back, the defense will get a big upgrade.

Can it be September 2018 already?