San Francisco’s pass rush is in good hands for years to come thanks to second-year linebacker Aldon Smith. The dynamic defender currently ranks third in the NFL with 9.5 sacks following a two-sack performance against the St. Louis Rams.
Smith, a Missouri native, takes extreme pride in rushing the passer. It’s a specialized role that the young linebacker has mastered, all while taking on the responsibilities of being an every-down player in his second season in the league.
In our latest Gameday cover story, Smith opened up about what goes into his gameday performances. From his pregame mindset, to in-game collaboration, to the thrill of making a sack, Smith explains everything that allows him to be successful. The cover image, shot by team photographer Michael Zagaris, depicts Smith in his pregame state. The disruptive pass-rusher explained the scene and much more in this cover story. So without further ado, get to know the man with 23.5 career sacks and plenty of memorable sack celebrations.
San Francisco’s second-year linebacker continually shines on the big stage.
By Taylor Price, 49ers.com
In a short amount of time (24 regular season games to be exact), the San Francisco 49ers Faithful have grown accustomed to seeing their No. 99 sack opposing quarterbacks with regularity. After breaking the franchise’s rookie sack record in 2011, Aldon Smith, San Francisco’s ferocious pass-rushing weapon, is back where he left off, totaling 7.5 sacks through eight games in 2012.
Smith’s 20.0 sacks in 24 contests also make him the second fastest in team history to reach that number behind Hall of Fame defensive end Fred Dean, who reached 20.0 sacks in 23 games from 1982-83.
With each Smith sack typically comes a unique celebration, a demonstration that speaks volumes about the second-year linebacker, who has 38 tackles (7.5 tackles-for-loss), 7.5 sacks, 21 quarterback hits and 31 quarterback pressures in his first season as an every-down linebacker. Smith, however, points to his appreciation of the game when explaining his love of performance. It’s because of that passion Smith is able to play the way he does.
“I really love playing. I love my teammates. I love the situation I’m in right now,” Smith says. “Every time I’m on the field, somebody at the game it’s their first time ever watching an NFL game and I want them to at least remember me, remember my number and just remember what our team is doing, our defense.
“I want them to see the passion – that we are all about the game because I can honestly say that everyone I play with and everyone on this team really is passionate about football and playing for this team. If they could just get a little feel of that then I want them to enjoy it.”
Because of his infatuation with the sport and love of competition, the 6-foot-4, 258-pound linebacker has become one of the most energetic and feared players on the league’s top-ranked defense through eight weeks of the 2012 regular season. Smith thrives under the spotlight, but does so because of his teammates, who help inspire his all-out style of play.
In the latest Gameday, Smith opened up about his football process. From pregame focus, to in-game introductions and collaborations with All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith, to the thrill and conquest of recording a sack – Smith explains what it takes to become a top performer in the National Football League under the brightest of lights.
1. the HYPE.
Inside the visiting locker room of Minnesota’s Metrodome, Smith gets his ankles taped hours before kick-off just as over-sized headphones blare out his pre-game music. It’s a simple routine for the 49ers linebacker while getting taped up for gameday. The undershirt, too, is part of it. Smith’s shirt, a depiction of Muhammad Ali knocking out Sonny Liston, is worn under his pads for every game. It also stands for something much bigger than motivation.
“I listen to inspirational songs, songs that get me going. In that picture, I’m probably listening to Rick Ross. The shirt, it’s a fight between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston when Ali knocked him out. He’s standing over him and that was a really epic fight. It’s like me when I’m playing, it’s a fight and that’s the reason I wear it. It’s the fight in the game. It’s the meaning behind who he was and it’s there in that picture. I’m going through my routine, trying not to think too much period. I’m thinking about the game, being confident, being self-assured about what’s going to happen.” – AS
2. the INTRODUCTION.
Fireworks. Flyovers. Fanatical behavior. How do 49ers players keep cool in the leading moments before kick-off? They do it by embracing the moment. In his second year with the 49ers, Smith has grown comfortable around teammates, but appreciates getting to know veteran newcomers. Enter 35-year-old wideout Randy Moss, who keeps a locker two spots away from Smith. While running out on the field for his first home performance of 2012, Smith takes pride in a pre-game exchange with a future Hall of Fame player. It also sets Smith at ease before the physical encounter soon to take place.
“I’ve watched Randy Moss since I was younger. You never know how life’s going to work; I never knew I’d be in the NFL, or in San Francisco, or even playing with Randy Moss. All those things happened. And then, we have a relationship being cool like big brother-little brother thing – that’s even more of a plus and amazing. Coming out the tunnel to start the game, dapping him up, is even more of a thing.” – AS
3. the INSTRUMENT.
Few, if any, linebackers in the NFL have the 83 and 7/8 inch wingspan Smith uses to his advantage. Sure, Smith posses a relentless approach to bringing down opposing ball carriers and quarterbacks, but the sophomore defender has an amazing toolkit at his side. Chief among them are the long arms he uses to make tackles all over the field.
“It helps. It’s another weapon that adds to everything. I might not know everything now, but it makes up for it. I think it catches people off-guard, they don’t know how long they are, too.” – AS
4. the PERFORMANCE.
One-on-one matchups are hard to win against professional linemen, the same goes for battles that involve double-teams or extra help from running backs looking to chip Smith. No matter, the 49ers linebacker takes on all tasks required from his outside linebacker position in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defensive scheme. When it comes to rushing the passer, the thrill of making a big play is all over Smith’s face while approaching rookie quarterback Russell Wilson in a Thursday night win over Seattle. All that’s left to do is finish the play, which Smith does with relative ease.
“That feeling, closing in that second before getting a sack is an adrenaline rush. You know you’re about to make a big play and you know everyone is about to see it. And, it’s something you’ve worked for, from the time the ball is snapped until it happens. It’s just that sense of relief and enjoyment.” – AS
5. the COLLABORATION.
Smith’s not alone, nor is he the only Smith defender on the 49ers from the University of Missouri. The second-year linebacker benefits from playing alongside the left side of San Francisco’s defense with Justin Smith, an All-Pro defender who instills toughness throughout the 49ers defense. It’s one thing for Aldon Smith to take mentorship from Justin Smith, but the mutual respect between the two leads to in-game collaboration and finally, more sacks of the opposition.
“At that moment, we’re trying to figure out what’s going on – what we saw – and what we can all do from the coaching to the players, working together so we can make it happen. They see it from upstairs, (defensive line coach Jim Tomsula) sees it from down there, we’re in the game, so we see it. We put all our views together and come up with a solution.” – AS
6. the SHOW.
So much goes into making plays on Sunday, it’s only right for Smith to rejoice. The preparation, the struggle of competition and the repetition of constant battles with the offensive line lead to jubilation if individual and collective goals are accomplished. That’s why you see the 49ers take pride in their performance. Smith, personally, thrives on the moment. When the play is made, Smith’s excitement takes over and his outgoing personality comes out for the world to see. Sack dances are special, too, with a number of his celebrations being checked out on YouTube.
“I made a play. I made a big play. Everyone on our team makes plays. You want to be the guy who said he made a play and be involved in our team’s highlight video that we watch the day before the game. Really it’s just once you make the play, you have to have fun with it.” – AS
Tags: Aldon Smith, Fred Dean, Justin Smith, Randy Moss
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