Vic Fangio Discusses Aldon Smith's Expanding Role

49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio chatted with the media earlier today and prior to Aldon Smith coming on to chat with the media, Coach Fangio discussed Smith's development and aspects of his role in 2012. The comments consisted mostly of work we have inferred all offseason, but it was nice to get a little more context.

After Aldon was drafted, General Manger Trent Baalke was saying that eventually when Aldon makesthe transition to outside linebacker that it's not like he's going to be covering lots of tight ends. That would be very little of his job responsibility. Does that still hold true?

"That's pretty much true. He might be responsible for covering tight ends in zone coverages if they run through his zone and give him a route in his zone. But as far as playing man coverage on one, we don't do a whole lot of that with those guys, either side, not just his side."

Last year, Aldon Smith was primarily a pass rusher, and now he's going to be expected to be an every down player. What are the biggest adjustments you're looking for from him?

"Well, first of all, he's got to be an outside linebacker. He didn't have to do that much last year. I think he only had maybe 20 to 30 snaps of that. The rest of it was as a nickel rusher. So, he's got to be able to play his zone pass coverages when he drops back in the zone, and be in the right place and pick up the various routes correctly. And he's got to fit the run correctly based upon the blocking scheme and the call we're in. So, that's all new to him. It's all new to him as it relates to a game. He's done it in practice all last season, this offseason, and training camp. Now he's got to be able to do it in the games."

Although Patrick Willis was a playmaker all over the field, a key role for him was covering the opposing tight end. Given how the tight end role is developing into such an athletic, physical player, it's a constant battle and an important one. It seems like Aldon Smith is more likely to be keeping an eye on receivers coming through his zone, while also potentially dropping down to pick up a running back out of the backfield. Smith is incredibly athletic, but having to think about these things and know where he needs to be will be a challenge to follow all season long.

Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio
Press Conference - August 8, 2012
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

What are you hoping to see out of your defense in this first go around, Friday's game?

"I'm anxious to just see everybody play, both as an individual, particularly the young guys, and as a unit. So, just wanting to see good playing, guys have been coached out there, they've learned what we've put in and they can execute it. So, really, evaluate the individuals and the unit as a whole."

Have you determined a snap count for your starters?

"Not yet totally. We have an idea, but not yet, totally."

Would you put LB Aldon Smith in there maybe a little longer to see how he adjusts?

"That's possible. He hadn't played much outside linebacker, so he might get a few more snaps there. But we haven't really determined it yet."

After Aldon was drafted, General Manger Trent Baalke was saying that eventually when Aldon makesthe transition to outside linebacker that it's not like he's going to be covering lots of tight ends. That would be very little of his job responsibility. Does that still hold true?

"That's pretty much true. He might be responsible for covering tight ends in zone coverages if they run through his zone and give him a route in his zone. But as far as playing man coverage on one, we don't do a whole lot of that with those guys, either side, not just his side."

LB Ahmad Brooks is saying that he's had one of his best offseasons. Are there any signs that he's really showing it, from your perspective, that he's having a great offseason?

"He was. He's had a good camp. He took a step back recently here with a bad practice, but we're expecting big things from Ahmad."

What can you say about his work and the way that he's conducted himself coming off a big contract signing?

"I think it's been excellent. He signed his big contract last year or this past offseason in February, whenever it was. And he didn't disappear. He was here even more so than he's ever been. And was one of our best workers in the offseason and has got himself in the best shape of his career so far."

Did DT Demarcus Dobbs and NT Ian Williams really make this team from what they did in the preseason last year? And are you eager to see young defensive players make a case to make the team based on what they do in the game?

"Yes, they did make the team based on their work in camp and in the games. And we're looking for the next undrafted free agent, or the next sixth or seventh round pick to make this team, always."

How has Ian Williams looked in particular? It seemed like he's had some good practices.

"Ian's had a good camp so far. He's had some ups and downs in some certain techniques. But he's learning and he's improving. And he's definitely a much better player at this point than he was last year."

Is he doing both nose and defensive end?

"Up to this point he's mainly focused at nose. He's played a little end, but mainly focused at nose."

LB Larry Grant filled in great for you guys last year when you needed it. How has his camp been so far this year and how do you see him fitting in?

"Larry did a nice job for us last year playing four games for [LB] Pat[rick Willis] when he got hurt. And he's picked up where he left off last year in this camp for the most part, and he's had a good camp."

You've been around some great linebacker groups in your day. What makes this group special?

"Well, they're talented, number one. To even ask that question, you're insinuating that they have a high talent level, and that's correct. They've got great talent in Willis, [LB NaVorro] Bowman, Brooks and [Aldon] Smith. But we've got to do it on the field in a more consistent manner over an extended period of time. I get asked a lot about how do they compare to the four guys we had in New Orleans, and I said, well those four guys started for us in New Orleans for seven straight years together. Hopefully we can have a run like that here. And once we start doing that two, three, four years, then maybe I'll have a better answer to that question."

Is there any concern when you have players like a DT Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks, who play so many snaps throughout the season?

"No, not really. Again, that seems to be the hot question this year with all the reps everybody's played. To me, a lot of it depends upon what type of game it is, how you're playing on defense. If you're getting a fair amount of three and outs, or you give up one first down and get off the field. If the series last five or six plays or less, they can play a lot. If the series starts becoming an eight, nine, 10 play series, you'll see more subbing than you saw last year. So, the big guys, and our guys, Justin and [DT] Ray [McDonald] are in tremendous shape, so they can handle playing a lot of plays provided we're not getting double-digit drives put on us multiple times during a game."

Do you have a preference of seeing teams like the Vikings pass more against you guys this exhibition season? Is that the area that you're more concerned about than against the run?

"Not really. We can't assume we have a good run defense just because we did last year. You've got to start all over. I'd like to see the Vikings just run their balanced offense against us, so we can get a good evaluation both run and pass."

Are there any young guys on your defense that maybe don't get a lot of publicity that you think have had good camps so far?

"Nobody comes immediately to mind. We didn't draft anybody until the fifth round, and he's been out of all camp. And we got a couple guys in sixth and seventh and free agents. I think they're all about where we thought they would be. They are progressing. And I think the games will show exactly how much."

How's CB Cory Nelms doing at safety?

"He's doing OK. We let him go in practice today, inside early. His girlfriend is in the finals for the 400 meter hurdles. She's running right now as we speak. So we let him go in there early to watch that. Cory's a jack of all trades. We play him at corner and safety. We've kind of focused him at safety here primarily lately. But he's played both corner, and you guys also know that he's played some wide receiver in the past. So, he's trying to make this team primarily as a safety, but also as a jack of all trades."

Last year, Aldon Smith was primarily a pass rusher, and now he's going to be expected to be an every down player. What are the biggest adjustments you're looking for from him?

"Well, first of all, he's got to be an outside linebacker. He didn't have to do that much last year. I think he only had maybe 20 to 30 snaps of that. The rest of it was as a nickel rusher. So, he's got to be able to play his zone pass coverages when he drops back in the zone, and be in the right place and pick up the various routes correctly. And he's got to fit the run correctly based upon the blocking scheme and the call we're in. So, that's all new to him. It's all new to him as it relates to a game. He's done it in practice all last season, this offseason, and training camp. Now he's got to be able to do it in the games."

How much has LB Parys Haralson really helped Aldon out in getting him ready and prepared for that role?

"Parys helps tremendously. He's got a great relationship with Aldon. He shares anything and everything that he can with him for Aldon to improve. And I think the dynamics of that relationship couldn't be any better."

Is anything changed this season with the communication on the field? I think S Donte Whitner wore the green dot on the helmet last year?

"No, Pat did."

Oh, Pat did. OK, well so will anything change for this season?

"I don't foresee that. Now, we may change it for the preseason games, games where we don't anticipate Pat playing a lot. So, we might put it in some of other guys that will be playing most of the snaps."

Are there any regular starters that aren't going to play Friday night?

"Not right now they're not."

Are you worried about losing Demarcus Dobbs to the offensive side of the ball? Do you see him progressing on that as a tight end?

"He is getting better as a tight end, and I think he's a viable option for us as a tight end. But no, he's still primarily a defensive player and he figures into our plans on defense."

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