The Pro Football Writers of America’s 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year is hard at work, looking to improve on last year’s 14-sack campaign.
Probably not the news opposing NFL quarterbacks wanted to hear, but it’s true.
Smith even participated in the gauntlet receiving drills that took place at the 49ers Football School sessions. Sprinkled in the drills with the likes of
“I feel like I’m getting better every day,” the 6-foot-4, 258 pounder said of the practice periods that stress linebackers back pedaling and opening their hips to locate passes thrown over the middle of the field. “The more reps I do, the more I’m getting better at it.”
The better he is in pass coverage, the more opportunities there will be to rush the passer for Smith, the first 49ers player to record double-digit sacks since Andre Carter totaled 12.5 in 2002.
In a limited role as a first-year player where he primarily served as a pass rusher in the team’s nickel defense, Smith still managed to carve out his own memorable moments in Vic Fangio’s system.
Coincidentally, some of Smith’s best pass-rushing moments came in tandem with fellow Missouri alum
All of Aldon Smith’s production was quite impressive considering the former Missouri defensive end didn’t have a full offseason to prepare for the demands of a 16-game NFL schedule, or 18 games in the case of last year’s 49ers team which reached the NFC Championship Game.
Now, Smith enters a period of his career when coach Jim Harbaugh sees players making their biggest strides, that being from year one to year two.
As one of the team’s top returning defensive difference-makers, the 22-year-old Smith has been working alongside arguably the league’s most complete defensive unit throughout the 49ers offseason program.
Iron sharpening iron as the saying goes.
“It helps with keeping relationships with the guys and getting into a rhythm of staying in the football mindset,” Smith said. “It’s all helping, so when the season rolls around, we won’t miss a step.”
Smith is optimistic that a full offseason will have him improve on last year’s early-season performances when he got off to a slow introduction into Fangio’s defense. Smith recorded one tackle in his first three games, but truly came on strong from Weeks 4 through 17.
In that 13-game stretch, Smith registered all 14 of his sacks and made a push to be considered for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Those memorable quarterback takedowns, key to the 49ers securing the No. 2 overall seed in last year’s playoffs, somewhat overshadowed the well-roundedness of Smith’s contributions. At the end of the regular season, the rookie linebacker finished the year with 44 tackles, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. In the playoffs, Smith added a pair of sacks for good measure.
But just as Smith’s created a following around the NFL for his explosive pass-rushing and memorable sack celebrations (running off the field directly to the sideline bench at home against St. Louis comes to mind), he remains determined to be a complete outside linebacker in the team’s 3-4 defensive scheme.
Smith wasn’t used in coverage much as a rookie, but that could change as he continues to showcase a wide array of athletic talents in his first offseason working with the 49ers coaching staff.
But when he’s not around the facility improving his craft, Smith has recently picked up an old hobby that helps his focus and concentration: drumming. One of the key purchases made by last year’s first-round pick was a drum set which has allowed Smith to express himself away from his profession in a different way.
“Football is part of my day, but there are things I just like doing, my hobbies,” Smith said. “I’m taking advantage of the time I have available.”
In that bit of the offseason, Smith has lent his support to R&B singer June, an old friend of Smith who’s looking to get his music career off the ground. Not only has the 49ers linebacker spent time tweeting out support for the musician’s latest project, but he also he recently collaborated with June, playing drums on a recently released song.
“I was playing around one day to his song – he said he had a feel for that sound – so we just put two and two together,” Smith said. “It’s really just us having fun, doing what we naturally do.”
“I like music,” continued Smith, who can be seen playing the drums in this YouTube clip.
Feedback on the percussion performance has instantly been positive.
“People definitely like it,” Smith said. “They definitely didn’t expect football players to have other talents, so with his good music and my talent on the drums, it’s receiving some thumbs up.”
For the rest of the summer, Smith will continue to “attack” the team’s offseason program while honing his football talents.
But most importantly, he wants to get better.
“Last year was my first year and it was a little bit of a warm up,” said Smith who only needed one more sack in the 2011 season finale to break Jevon Kearse’s record of 14.5 sacks in 1999.
“Now I just have to keep going and take off.”