49ers LB Aldon Smith chases defensive honors
Thursday, November 22, 2012
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Greedy or not, Aldon Smith wants all the defensive accolades he can get.
It’s hard to argue with the statistics he’s putting up so far for the San Francisco 49ers.
Smith likes it that way. After missing out on the NFL’s award for top defensive rookie last season, he is determined to make up for it. And San Francisco’s high-flying outside linebacker hopes to leave little to chance this time.
He is striving to be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year and sacks leader in his second professional season.
The former Missouri Tiger recorded 51⁄2 sacks for the NFC West-leading Niners (7-2-1) in Monday night’s 32-7 rout of the Bears to give him a league-best 15 on the year — already topping the franchise-record and rookie-leading 14 he produced in 2011.
The honors are coming in already, with Smith’s prime-time performance to shut down Bears backup Jason Campbell earning him NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Next up: Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints (5-5) on Sunday at the Superdome.
“It means a lot. It’s humbling,” Smith said of the recognition. “I was just excited about how it went.”
Especially after official scorers reviewed film several minutes after the game ended and gave him one more half-sack. Denver’s Von Miller, who beat out Smith for Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, is second with 13 sacks and Houston’s J.J. Watt sits third with 111⁄2.
Smith has no qualms saying publicly how he would like to top them both, along with everybody else.
“Yeah, most definitely, because I compete hard,” he said. “I feel like everybody competes hard. There are so many people who are playing this game at an incredible level right now — Von, J.J., everybody, even the guys on our team — to be at the top of that list, that’s cool.”
The 23-year-old Smith, a menacing physical presence at 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds, is already drawing comparisons to some of the greats to play his position. Like late Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.
“He reminds me of Derrick Thomas,” Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt said. “Watching him, with his arm length and the way he can slither, his great get-off. I’m a great fan of Derrick. And that’s who Aldon reminds me of. So I think that’s one of the best compliments I can give him.”
The 49ers selected Smith seventh overall in the first round of the 2011 draft — and he became an instant impact player like many of the others chosen by general manager Trent Baalke the past two drafts.
Smith insists he hasn’t changed much when it comes to his pass-rushing technique, or upgraded his skills.
“Really, I’m just in a lot more so you see it a lot more,” he said. “It’s been there. I’m playing more.”
As dominant as he is for San Francisco’s smothering defense, Smith has faced a handful of questionable off-field issues over the past year that raised doubts about his character.
He insists he has grown up, and is eager to prove that. Coach Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers have stood by him.
In September just before the team’s home opener, Smith was the passenger in a car accident in Santa Clara County in which the driver swerved to avoid hitting a deer. Smith sustained a cut beneath his right eyebrow.
He was stabbed at his home in June, then apologized at the start of training camp in late July by saying, “letting everybody down was probably the saddest part.” He also was charged in late January with driving under the influence in Miami Beach — six days after San Francisco’s turnaround season ended with a 20-17 overtime loss in the NFC title game to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Now, Smith would like to repair all that starting with his play on the field. He even lines up on the left side to keep opposing offenses guessing.
“I’m really just playing the game,” he said. “The stats are what it is. I think the coaches just do a good job of getting me in positions where I can make plays. Wherever it’s at, I try to make the best of the situation.”
After his gem Monday, Smith received one of three game balls given out on the defensive side for outstanding performers.
“One to Aldon, who was a shining star in the game,” Harbaugh said. “And I’m not just going to say the sacks, but the sacks were spectacular. And he used a lot of different moves to make those sacks — a bull rush, great athleticism, great balance. Used his arm one time as a leg to stay up. It was really awesome to see.”
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