They're very nearly the same size and were both collegiate defensive ends before transitioning to outside linebacker in the National Football League, but the comparisons between
Lemonier is not trying to be Smith.
The 49ers would forgive their 2013 third-round draftee if he was prone to placing such unreasonable expectations on himself. After all, one of the outside linebackers he’s competing with for playing time, Smith, racked up 33.5 sacks in his first two pro seasons.
“He has his set of moves, and I’m trying to work on them,” Lemonier said, “but he’s just different. I’m more of a speed guy, so I have to work on my speed rush.”
But beyond moving his 6-foot-3, 255-pound frame as fast as it will go past opposing offensive tackles and tight ends -- he ran a 4.6 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine to Smith's 4.78 mark in 2011 -- there is no rolodex of pass-rushing moves in Lemonier’s locker or on his mind. No pile of notecards describing the swim, grab, rip or spin – or copies of the moves Smith seems to be creating on the fly in practice and games.
“Coach T continues telling me to stop thinking about moves and just rush and attack the edge, and the moves will come off that,” Lemonier said of defensive line coach Jim Tomsula’s instruction before Monday’s practice. “I’m trying to start from square one and see what happens.”
All indications were that Lemonier acquitted himself well in Thursday’s preseason opener at Candlestick Park. He did not record a sack, but he was making his presence known at -- and past -- the line of scrimmage, finding his way into the Denver Broncos' backfield.
Lemonier recorded 17 sacks in his three collegiate seasons at Auburn, including 9.5 during his All-SEC sophomore campaign, but that was as a defensive end. He’s now shifting to the role of stand-up ‘backer in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s 3-4 alignment. Lemonier said he is still adjusting to the strength and will of NFL O-lineman.
Working at left outside linebacker during Monday’s practice session, Lemonier was also responsible for setting the edge against the run and keeping his eyes on roving tight ends. Friday in Kansas City, where the Chiefs host each team's second exhibition, he will have another opportunity to do both.
Of course, he'd rather take down the quarterback.
“Finally getting to play to my first NFL game, it was an experience, and I will remember it forever and ever,” Lemonier said, “but I’m not satisfied because I didn’t get a sack. I just have to keep working at it, and eventually it will come.”