For most fans outside of the 49ers Faithful circle seeing Aldon Smith’s 16 sacks and finishing second in the Defensive Rookie of the Year award last season, they might be surprised to hear he did not start one game in 2011. Smith was on the field for less than half of the 49ers plays on defense and he would only come in when the team was expecting a pass. This season, however, NFL fans everywhere will get to know Smith as he expands his role into an every down outside linebacker as a starter on defense.
During the 49ers offseason workouts, Smith has been learning the defenses coverage’s although he will probably not be covering receivers, tight ends or running backs. That will be left to the rest of the linebackers as he will be the outside linebacker in the 49ers 3-4 base defense but will be the defensive end in the nickel defense. Still, Smith needs to learn how to cover on passing plays which could be his only weakness expanding to a full-time starter.
Last season Parys Haralson started opposite Ahmad Brooks at outside linebacker and played well. Now, Haralson is competing with Smith for the starting job at outside linebacker more so because of the play of Smith than Haralson regressing from last season. One area Haralson excelled at last season was against the run. Smith should do fine defending the run but he will need to develop recognition of whether the offense is going to run or pass. After what we saw Smith do last year in his rookie season, the sky is the limit for the linebacker.
Here is a transcript from a Q&A Smith did with the media:
Q: How’s the transition going to being an every-down guy?
Aldon Smith: It’s going good so far. I’m enjoying the learning process and the watching-myself-get-better process.
Q: Where do you see yourself making the most strides so far?
Aldon Smith: The coverage – being able to cover the receivers better out there.
Q: That’s not something you’ll have to do a whole lot during the season, is it?
Aldon Smith: If I do, I’m going to be ready for it.
Q: Parys Haralson did such a good job against the run last season. Do you watch film of him?
Aldon Smith: I learn from Parys, the way he attacks the run and the way he was able to put up a run defense. I get a lot of tips.
Q: What’s the key to that?
Aldon Smith: Just attack it, really. That mentality.
Q: Are you competing with Haralson for a starting job?
Aldon Smith: I’m competing with everybody.
Q: Different mentality for your team this year, being the hunted instead of the hunters?
Aldon Smith: People know who we are, considering what happened last year. But we still have the same mentality – we’re hungry and we’re working hard every day to get better.
Q: What do you expect for yourself next season statistic-wise? You had so many sacks playing about half the time.
Aldon Smith: Hopefully my stats will increase because I’m in a lot more now.
Q: What do you think the potential is for this defense?
Aldon Smith: As long as we keep getting better, the sky’s the limit for us. We’ve got a lot of guys who work hard and do their job.
Q: Does anyone work harder than Justin Smith?
Aldon Smith: Me (smiles). No, he works hard. He’s a hard working guy.
Q: What have you learned from him?
Aldon Smith: Work ethic, how to be a pro, how to enjoy the game.
Q: Has he been a role model for you?
Aldon Smith: He’s definitely been a role model for me since the day I got here and we worked out at San Jose State. That’s somebody I talked to all season and somebody I’ll talk to as long as he’s around.
Q: Supposedly he’s pretty funny.
Aldon Smith: He’s alright (laughs). He’s got a good sense of humor.
Q: Are you guys feeling added pressure this year?
Aldon Smith: No, we didn’t win the Super Bowl. I think whoever won the Super Bowl should feel the pressure.
Q: Are you going to take any snaps on offense this year?
Aldon Smith: I might. Quarterback (smiles).