49ers DC Vic Fangio Discusses Aldon Smith's Development

49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio chatted with the media before practice today (transcript after the jump) and Aldon Smith came up as a topic of conversation. The 49ers have primarily used Smith as their right defensive end when they go to the nickel. That gets him a lot of snaps when they face more prolific passing teams, but it also means very few snaps against more conservative rushing teams.

Fangio was asked about Smith's progression towards becoming an every down outside linebacker and he had this to say:

"Good. He gets a lot of practice at it during the week. If he has to go in there and play some, we won't change anything. I think he's ready to go do it. He just needs to do it. When that opportunity comes, I'm confident that he'll be ready. I'm pleased with his progress in the last month or so in that."

Ahmad Brooks is a free agent after this year, while Parys Haralson is signed through 2013. That could conceivably open up a spot for Smith to become that every down guy. As the 49ers hopefully lock up the division and a bye in the coming weeks, there could be some opportunities for more playing time for Smith.

For example, if the 49ers could potentially have a first round bye locked up by Week 15 or 16, there could be some value to getting Smith time as an every-down linebacker in the final week or two. If they take big leads in games before they wrap everything up they could get him more time, but given that big leads often mean an opponent has to pass more frequently, the nickel defense would likely become the base defense anyway.

Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio
Press Conference - December 1, 2011
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

[LB] Patrick [Willis] was talking about the goal line stand that you guys had in Baltimore a week ago, how he was able to call out the drop there with QB Joe Flacco in, said that was something you showed them on film, even though Baltimore hadn't run it all season. How do you go about finding plays like that from seasons past and what made you think that, that play might be run?

"It's just experience in the league, nothing more nothing less. Having coached against them before, having coached with them there for a few years, sometimes you just know. It's happened other times. I can remember times particularly in goal line in years past, where we went back and showed the team a sequence of plays that a team hadn't run this year, but we showed it from the previous year. Just felt we were going to see it and then if they went to the two plays they ran against us and won us the game. You get lucky, some, but its preparation."

What was the other play? The one when [S C.J.] Spillman came in, or the play before?

"No, I'm talking about in previous years. The draw was the only one that we had the alert for there."

For this one?

"For this game."

That was a pretty big goal line stance for you guys.

"Yes, I think they started off first and goal from the 3 or 4, something like that. They had a good run on the first play. We didn't play that play very well. They got the ball from the 3 or 4, down the inside the one. Then the next play was when Spillman through the guy for the lost."

Does Patrick still have the helmet on at that time?

"Yes."

Did you radio that into him?

"We didn't radio that into him at the time, but they had been prepped, so when they saw a certain look, to be ready for it."

Your defense held another rusher to under 100 yards rushing. Is this the best run defense you've ever coached and what makes it so special?

"Well I don't know if it's the best, been around some good ones, too, but its damn near close. We just have good players. Good players up front and we have a group of 11 guys, including the defensive backs that enjoy playing the run and take pride in it. That's basically all it is. Good players, good technique and the right mindset."

No sacks in the Ravens game, was that a factor of the pass rush not getting there or was it the Ravens concerted effort to make sure they got the ball out quickly?

"They only threw the ball in the low twenties, is one reason. Two, they did throw it very quick when they did throw it. I was pleased with our pass rush. Our pass rush was not an issue in that game."

You guys came on as a coaching staff and you lost [LB] Takeo Spikes after the lockout to San Diego. [LB NaVorro] Bowman is in there and he's fourth in the league in tackles now. What impact do you think he's made this year?

"He's had a tremendous impact. Almost from the first day of camp until now, he's really played well for us. He's been an important player for us and I can't say enough good things about him. Now's the time though, where he's got to put the pedal to the metal and finish these last five weeks with even better play."

Can you put into perspective what it means not to have allowed a rushing touchdown this season?

"You know it's hard to in a way. Obviously, to not having allowed none is unusual. I don't even know where that is historically, you guys probably know. Some luck is involved, but its good play. I tell you the part that's overlooked in that, when you're talking about it, is our defensive backs have made some critical tackles that would have been touchdowns that we ended up not letting them score and that's to not be lost in this discussion either. One was last week, prior to that goal line stand you guys were just talking about, [RB Ray] Rice broke out of there and [S] Donte Whitner tackled him, which was a hell of a play on a great back in the open field. If he didn't make that tackle, we don't have this discussion today."

What's the first thing you think of when someone asks about [DT Isaac] Sopoaga?

"Toughness. Holding the point in there at the nose position. Being strong. Being a spiritual leader. Ultimate team player. Every team, no matter what scheme you're running, has some unsung heroes on it and he's one of them for us."

What's the situation with [CB] Shawntae Spencer? He had the toe injury which had him inactive and he played in Arizona then was inactive for Baltimore. Is he 100 percent still or is he still working?

"I don't know that he's 100 percent. One of the reasons he was active against Arizona is because they play a lot of 4-wide receiver sets, so we needed an extra corner up in that game. He's not 100 percent but he's certainly capable of playing."

[LB] Tavares Gooden, I had a chance to talk with him yesterday, and he said because of his history with concussions, he really has to focus on his technique in tackling. What do you see from him in practice that he does so well because he hasn't had a concussion since 2008? Do you apply that to other linebackers or other players to take the same type of technique?

"Not really. We got Tavares after training camp was over and he hadn't played a lot of live action. Really [assistant head coach/special teams coordinator] Brad [Seely] would be more capable of answering that. I don't see any difference on the practice field. Obviously during the season, we don't do any live contact work tackling during the season, during practice. I don't know that I really can answer that question with a great answer, but he's playing well in practice. I know he's doing well in the kicking game. We're confident that if he ever has to play, I've coached him in the past, so I know a little bit about him."

How has [LB] Aldon Smith's progression at learning to become a stand up, every down linebacker?

"Good. He gets a lot of practice at it during the week. If he has to go in there and play some, we won't change anything. I think he's ready to go do it. He just needs to do it. When that opportunity comes, I'm confident that he'll be ready. I'm pleased with his progress in the last month or so in that."

What have been your impressions of [Rams RB] Steven Jackson on film?

"He's tough. Big, 240-pound running back that likes to get his pads going, but he's also capable of bouncing the ball out. I think he likes to bounce it out sometimes and hunt up some DBs to try to run over. He's a downhill runner but he's got some elusiveness to him. He's got a good stiff arm. You guys know all about him, you've seen him play more than I have here in the last few years. He's a great back."

You said the last couple of weeks with [Giants QB] Eli Manning and [Ravens QB] Joe Flacco, you've played a couple quarterbacks that like to get rid of the ball quickly. Is [Rams QB] Sam Bradford in that mold or does he like to hold on to it more?

"They do both. They'll get it out of their hand real quick, then they have some passing game concepts where they like to keep a lot of guys into block and go for the shot passing game. They do it both ways."

What's your stance, or do you even have a stance, as far as resting players at the end of the season if you have a playoff spot locked up?

"Really don't have a stance on that as of this moment. It all depends. I really don't think we'll have anything or everything locked up going in to Week 16. I think it's probably going to be a moot point."

You're talking about...

"Everything that might be available."

Have you noticed improvement or progression from [QB] Colin Kaepernick in practice or anything specifically you see on that side of the ball?

"No, not really. I don't take note of what he's doing out there."

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