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First Look: Aldon Smith vs. The Bayou

San Francisco 49ers roster

After carefully examining Aldon Smith's performance in his first bit of professional competition against non-49ers, there are both positives and negatives to discuss. On Friday nights match against the New Orleans Saints, Aldon Smith showed he is still a rookie, but a rookie looking to get better. Smith did a variety of things when on the field, including rushing the passer, playing coverage, and playing standing up as well as in the five technique.

In Smith's first outing, there were a number of things he did very well, bringing to light why coach Jim Harbaugh selected him with the 7th overall pick in this years draft. Immediately, Smith showed great burst off the line and was such a presence that he provoked both a holding and false start on New Orleans linemen. Smith has tremendous ability as a natural pass rusher who has a knack for getting in the oppositions backfield. Early on in the game, he had a great bull rush which collapsed the pocket, unfortunately Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel stepped up and scrambled for a first down. It appears that he has an objective to get from point A to point B by any means necessary, which includes utilizing his array of pass rushing moves. Whether Smith is dipping his shoulder around the edge, bull rushing the lineman or slipping in between cracks in the line, he showed his ability as a pure pass rusher.

Against New Orleans, Smith had multiple quarterback pressures, including a sack. He showed that he can be a generally disruptive player when on the field. His long arms are such an asset; he uses them to keep the blocker at bay while his powerful legs churn with what looks to be a lot of torque. What was very intriguing is that he has learned to use his arms as a third and fourth leg at times. Without breaking stride, Smith would appear to be about to tumble but would plant his hand, and regain his balance while continuing to pursue the ball. There is a lot to be said about his explosiveness as a pass rusher and for his first game in that aspect, he looked good. However, there were some flaws to his game that suggest room for improvement.

I noticed early in the game, Smith was called to blitz and after his first move failed and the pocket slid away from him, he gave up on the play. He struggled at times to disengage from the blocker and on a few occasions, the tailback sped right passed him. When he got tied up with the offensive linemen during the game, it was because he was playing too high and the blocker had all the leverage. There were a number of times where he rushed from the edge position when an interior run was called, and he'd take himself out of the play by committing too much to blitzing from the outside. At no point during those plays did he allow himself the option to get back inside because he overpursued based on false anticipation.

I was not disappointed with what I saw of him in the few coverage situations he was in. Smith was rushing a lot more than he was asked to play coverage which is good because it shows the system playing to his ability. He wasn't responsible for any blown coverages because he knew his assignments. This showed he has studied which means he is willing to work to get better.   

Smith has a plethora of skills and physical abilities but the key to his development will be proper attention through coaching and gametime experience. Smith needs to learn by doing because he showed he is physically ready to take on the challenges of the NFL. If he becomes a student of the game and has a work ethic like our own Patrick Willis, it would be hard for the two of them to not being flying together to Hawaii on an annual basis.

Overall, Smith fits the prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker GM Trent Baalke and coach Harbaugh were looking for. He is already an explosive rusher with the desire to become a complete outside linebacker in the NFL. Smith's performance showed us that he is right where he should be and the flaws that need tweeking are going to be ironed out through experience. Both Smith and quarterback Colin Kaepernick saw a great amount of reps against the Saints because Harbaugh knows that their lack of experience is the only thing in the way right now. He wants to get them on the field and get them on the field a lot. The future isn't ready yet, but it appears to have arrived. (A. Smith finished with 4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble).