The San Francisco 49ers brought in several players that are familiar with the Seattle Seahawks style defense Robert Saleh is looking to implement. It was not surprising to see a linebacker like Malcolm Smith signed to a deal, but the contract caught us by surprise.
Smith signed a five year deal worth up to $26.5 million. It includes $11.5 million fully guaranteed at signing, but the final two years of the contract are team options. It’s still a pricey deal, but if Reuben Foster emerges sooner rather than later, the 49ers would be able to get out of the deal before too long.
Smith met with the media on Friday following practice, and he hit on a few interesting topics.
That being said, Smith could be in line for a bit of a resurgence after a down year in Oakland. Smith said on Friday that he thinks he will be more comfortable this year in Saleh’s defense than he was during his time with the Raiders. His coverage skills remain a concern, but familiarity with the defense is a step in the right direction. He thinks the clarity of his role is a big help.
“It’s very clear. It’s very clear what you need to do. It’s very clear how you need to be successful. There’s a lot of examples of how to be successful. You look at the guys that have played, even you look at Atlanta’s defense last year, those young players, how they were able to just play with speed, be very decisive and disruptive. So I think those are the qualities that make it what it is, and why a lot of people want to do it. But you have to have a certain way of doing it.”
Linebacker Reuben Foster had a notable first day of training camp, running back an interception for a touchdown off a Prince Charles Iworah deflection. Foster was cleared for the start of practice, following pre-Combine shoulder surgery that was one of several reasons he slipped to the end of the first round.
Smith was asked if he was thrown for a loop when the 49ers drafted another Foster. Smith is playing weak side linebacker, and Foster is coming in to compete with him. Smith said he was surprised Foster slipped as far as he did, given the talent. He expects the team to look for ways to, “get your room better. You have an opportunity to take a player like that ... I feel like it was kind of expected at that point ... And he’s a great addition to our group.”
Even though they will be competing, Smith thinks they can each help each other, and in turn make the team better.
“I feel like you can always learn from somebody. Especially a player like Reuben, he’s had a lot of success. And my experience, he can learn from that as well. But we have a group where we try to be versatile, and communicate and learn from each other’s mistakes and successes. So, I think it’s only going to make this team better.”
Smith was also asked about his evolution as a linebacker in light of how offenses are developing. He talked about how tight ends are now able to create mismatches with linebackers and safeties. We saw that with Vernon Davis, but it has become a more frequent feature of offenses.
Someone then asked Smith about the 49ers tight ends. He offered some praise for Vance McDonald and Logan Paulsen, but he had a bit more praise for rookie George Kittle. Initially he said, “I think Kittle’s done a good job. He’s shown a little bit of elusiveness.” He mentioned McDonald and Paulsen, and then returned to Kittle, saying, “It’s interesting to see Kittle come in, and how he’ll fit, and they’ll shake that out.”
The 49ers tight end depth chart is one of the many question marks on the roster. Kittle got a lot of first team snaps in the offseason workout program, and continued with them the first day of training camp. There is still plenty of time to go, and pads to still put on starting Sunday, but he seems to be making a solid impression on the coaching staff. That first preseason game depth chart will be intriguing to view.