In terms of fan confidence, Aldon Smith has ridden a roller-coaster since being drafted. Many of us said, "What?!" when the 49ers made him the 7th overall selection in the 2011 NFL draft; believing him to be somewhat of a reach at that spot. Since then, we've heard some very encouraging things from practice reports as well as seeing some excellent play in the preseason.
Smith has been making the transition from defensive end in college to outside linebacker in the NFL, something defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has repeatedly said would take some time. As such, he was not the starting OLB on either side for the 49ers opening game against the Seahawks.
Matt Maiocco mentioned to me that Smith played about 35 snaps (I counted 24) in his "limited role" as a Nickel pass-rusher last Sunday. I wanted to go back and take a look at those snaps and see just what Smith was able to do while on the field. We know he didn't put up giant numbers on the stat-sheet, but I wanted to take a look at the match-ups he had and how he fared.
After the jump I'll document each play that I watched.
1Q 13:41 - Smith lines up at RDE in Nickel and faces Russell Okung, who locks him up in the shoulder pads. Okung dropped back quickly Smith was not able to knock the left tackle's arms off of him. Aldon did get nice push and minimized the pocket from which Tarvaris Jackson had to throw.
1Q 10:00 - Smith lines up extra wide this down and Justin Smith takes an outside angle into Okung with Smith, driving the tackle back into Jackson's face. The QB tries to step-up but McDonald, who lined up over center, is waiting for him and takes him down.
1Q 7:05 - Okung goes for the cut-block on Smith, who does an acrobatic hand-stand maneuver and lands on his feet, like a cat. In the future I hope he steps on Okung on the way to the QB. Is that legal?
2Q 13:08 - Third down and nine, Nickel package again. The two Mizzmiths get pressure in Jackson's face but he complete's the pass as he's hit for a first down.
Side note: the next play was the Parys Haralson strip-sack that Will Tukuafu caught and returned. Afterwards on the sideline, Jim Tomsula congratulates "Tuk" and I honestly don't think Tomsula was wearing a shirt underneath his windbreaker. Talk about the Ron Jeremy comparisons...
2Q 10:07 - Smith is chomping at the bit pre-snap and causes Okung to false-start.
2Q 2:40 - Smith is matched up on Okung again and stays locked with him as he sees the dump-off pass to the RB is coming his way. Jackson throws the ball in the dirt.
2Q 2:36 - Smith drops into coverage short-right. Jackson looks then throws to the other side for a loss.
-- Halftime --
Observation: Parys Haralson looks quick off the edge. He's energized this year, maybe it's the scheme? Also, Madieu Williams throws really good temper tantrums.
3Q 3:10 - 2nd and 10, Aldon had a nice break (bet he wishes he didn't) not coming back into the game until this point. Another cut-block by Okung, except this time Aldon jumps over it. Still, the pass was quick and to the other side of the field.
3Q 2:29 - 3rd and 2. Aldon is on a funky stunt, he seems to be spying the RB coming out of the backfield. The pass is quick and to the other side of the field.
3Q 0:23 - Yet another cut-block by Okung but Aldon defeats it and jumps up to bat down the pass with his 35+ inch arms. Come stronger than that, Russell.
4Q 4:39 - The offense had a long drive to eat up some clock, giving the defense a nice rest. Smith, however, runs wide of the QB, who steps up and scrambles for a first-down.
4Q 4:06 - Smith drops back in shallow zone again but it's a quick throw to the other side to Doug Baldwin. Reggie Smith takes a poor angle and it's a long TD play.
4Q 3:45 - 1st down and the 49ers are protecting a nine point lead, so they roll out the Nickel package early-on in the series. Seattle has three WR's, so that has a lot to do with it as well. Smith stunts to the inside and is picked up by a Guard before the pass is thrown incomplete.
4Q 3:40 - 2nd and 10, Smith appears to be held by Okung on the play. Fortunately Ray McDonald hits Jackson as he throws an incomplete pass.
4Q 3:36 - 3rd down, Okung rides Smith behind the play, but Smith doesn't give up and ends up coming up to grab Jackson just as his brother-from-another-Mother, Justin makes the play.
4Q 2:39 - Smith stays home and ends up getting in on a running play for a short gain.
4Q 2:22 - Smith drops back in short zone again and once again the ball goes to the other side. #probowl ;-)
4Q 2:16 - Smith sticks with Okung and sniffs out the short pass in the flat to Justin Forsett. Smith is in position to make the play but doesn't have to as his teammates get the stop first.
4Q 2:00 - Smith makes an average edge-rush and is in the vicinity of Jackson but doesn't make a play on the QB.
4Q 1:40 - Smith is pushed behind the QB again. He rarely used his club/counter in this game. Wondering if Harbaugh/Fangio told him not to, similarly to the offense "not showing too much" in the opener? Conspiracy theory!
4Q 1:32 - Smith is washed out in the scrum and doesn't affect the play
4Q 1:25 - (see above)
4Q 1:10 - Smith bull-rushes Okung into Jackson who gets hit by Haralson from the other side and fumbles the ball, 49ers recover.
Smith didn't have a huge impact in this game but got some good game-experience. He showed athleticism but not many pass-rush moves (which we know he has and have seen). Okung is a top-level tackle when healthy and he appeared to handle Smith well. It's something for Aldon to build on going forward so that the next match-up, he wins.