When it came to chasing down quarterbacks in 2012, the San Francisco 49ers literally featured a one-man pass rush. In just his second campaign, Aldon Smith wreaked havoc on opposing offenses with his strength and quickness. His dominance led him to 19.5 sacks on the year, which was roughly 51 percent of the team’s total sack number (38). However, more could be expected out of him next season.
At just 23 years old, Smith is entering his third year as a pro and is still learning the nuances of the NFL. What’s also scary is that he has yet to reach his physical peak. It’s hard to imagine Smith topping what he accomplished last year, but he is very capable.
This offseason period, the 49ers bolstered their roster in all three areas of the game. More specifically the defense, on paper at least, has noticed the greatest improvement. In March, San Francisco signed defensive end Glenn Dorsey. Even though he was limited to four games last year by a calf injury, the former Kansas City Chief attracts a lot of attention along the line of scrimmage. If he can stay healthy, Dorsey will help free up Smith on the outside.
In April’s draft, the 49ers added pass rushers in Cornellius “Tank” Carradine and Corey Lemonier. Any production out of them would be a bonus. Though they will be broken into the rotation slowly, they can still make a contribution on limited snaps. Noted for having non-stop motors, their play will ease some of the pressure off of Smith in wrapping up quarterbacks.
Smith’s production is closely tied to that of defensive end Justin Smith. With Justin taking on double-teams, Aldon made the most of his one-on-one matchups. But once Justin suffered a partially torn triceps in Week 15, Aldon virtually disappeared. It also didn’t help that Aldon had to play through a torn labrum late in the season. Over the team’s final six games (including the playoffs), San Francisco’s star edge rusher failed to notch a single sack.
If defensive coordinator Vic Fangio stretches out his rotation, Justin should have a better chance of staying healthy. The last time he did not play a full season was back in 2001, so he’s proven to be reliable despite his age. Incorporating more players within each game will benefit everyone up front, and doing so would sustain their effectiveness over the course of the long, grueling season.
Teams will do everything in their power to prevent Smith from touching their quarterback. He’s earned their respect. However, with reinforcements along the front-seven, that task will be hard to accomplish. Even if the young linebacker fails to pile up the sacks, he’ll still be freeing up his teammates to make plays.
Look for a new and improved Smith in 2013.