Linebacker Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers is the most talented outside linebacker possibly since Derrick Thomas of the Kansas City Chiefs. Smith is an incredible talent and changes the way offenses play on Sundays. This past Wednesday, Smith submitted a plea of “No Contest” to six separate charges. On July 25, Smith will find out how much jail time he will be facing. The most he can serve is 52 months, while the least he can serve is no jail time. Even if he avoids jail, NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell will most certainly hand down his own harsh punishment.
So when Smith is jailed and/or suspended, who on the 49ers will be assigned the task to fill his shoes? The man with this job will be Corey Lemonier. A lot of people don’t know this name, but after a few weeks, he will be a regular name around the league. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription), Lemonier had an overall rating of +2.0 in just 284 snaps. For outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense, that ranks as the 25th best in the league. That’s only his rookie season with limited snaps. There’s no question that going into this season he will get a lot more reps with the first team defense.
San Fran’s defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, is no slouch either. He is one of the best defensive minds in football who has a way with linebackers (NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson, Cam Johnson). Not to mention the way he calls linebacker stunts with defensive end Justin Smith. “The Cowboy,” as they call him, is one of most dominating ends in the league and demands double teams on almost every play. With Smith getting that much attention, Fangio likes to call stunts with the linebacker coming over top while Smith occupies both men. This enables the linebacker an easy path to the quarterback.
Along with Smith at end this season will be Tank Carradine as well. Carradine is a pass-rush specialist and is someone else who demands extra attention and allows Lemonier one-on-one situations most of the time. The 49ers’ defensive line is extremely deep and something offenses have to give their full attention to. With one-on-one matchups against tight ends, running backs and sometimes the tackles being forced to shift outside quickly, Lemonier will be able to take advantage of those situations often.
Last season when Aldon Smith was out, Lemonier wasn’t the only one filling in for him. Dan Skuta, converted from inside linebacker, filled in as well. Skuta actually had a PFF grade of +8.3 in 302 snaps. Skuta doesn’t have the body type to play every single down at outside linebacker but can really get after it when used in certain situations. Skuta also brings a different style than Lemonier, keeping offenses on their toes and not allowing them to get comfortable with any one player.
Corey Lemonier is set to have a great year for however long Aldon Smith ends up being out. Between the talent the 49ers have on the defensive line and the brilliant defensive mind of Vic Fangio, Lemonier is in great hands and is in the best position possible to succeed. He is going to be a player no one talks about at the start of the season, but by Week 3, everyone knows his name and everyone has figured out how to pronounce it.