Linebacker Patrick Willis is the leader of the 49ers’ defense, however, the defense has thrived without him in the past. Safety Donte Whitner’s production dipped in 2012, even though the 49ers made it to the Super Bowl.
Last season, Smith had 19.5 sacks, 66 tackles and one interception. He nearly broke the single-season sack record and may actually break it this year. Since the quarterback position is the most “important” on the field, how do the Niners neutralize a signal caller?
Not just rush the passer, but actually sack him. With linebacker Ahmad Brooks, veteran defensive tackle Justin Smith and newly acquired defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, opposing quarterbacks will facemask kisses and shoulder pad hugs. The difference between Smith and those three is that Smith has the speed and quickness to work the edge.
During the offseason Smith began training in mixed martial arts. Mixed martial arts provide some of the best training for strength, quickness and endurance. More specifically for pass rushers, it aids in nearly every facet of their game. Striking (Muay Thai kickboxing) trains the hand quickness, movement and coordination. Grappling will assist any defender with his ability to tackle a ball carrier.
If Smith can almost repeat his stats from 2012, the 49ers may be the No. 1 defense in the league. And with the recent defensive as opposed to offensive moves San Francisco has made, the team wants to win with defense.