SANTA CLARA -- Aldon Smith was on the field for 489 of the 49ers' 1,014 defensive snaps in his rookie season last year. Left outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks saw 944 snaps, and Smith's totals are expected to rival Brooks' this year as Aldon makes the switch from pass-rushing specialist to every-down right outside linebacker.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is aware of the challenges the second-year pro faces.
"Hes got to be able to play his zone pass coverages when he drops back in the zone, and be in the right place and pick up the various routes correctly," Fangio said. "And hes got to fit the run correctly based upon the blocking scheme and the call were in. So, thats all new to him."
The switch is "going pretty good," in Smith's words. He says he is learning and getting better every day. It's been a team effort, with pointers coming from the coaching staff, Brooks, and last year's starter, Parys Haralson.
Parys helps tremendously," Fangio said. "Hes got a great relationship with Aldon. He shares anything and everything that he can with him for Aldon to improve. And I think the dynamics of that relationship couldnt be any better.
Smith, who was a half-sack away from Jevon Kearse's rookie record of 14.5 last season, isn't concerned with pass-rushing detail, despite the fact it will be as an upright linebacker this year, not with his hand in the dirt.
"Not really (different) for me," Smith said. "When I'm rushing, I'm rushing."
Smith wouldn't set a numerical goal for sacks, but he did say he wanted to improve on last year's franchise record-setting mark of 14 (Fred Dean set the single-season franchise mark with 17.5 sacks in 1983).
Brooks isn't concerned about Smith's rushing either.
"The biggest thing for him is to know where he's going, and whether or not he's rushing the passer or dropping back," Brooks said. "And when he's dropping back for him to know what zone he has to play."
Fangio acknowledged that Smith could see extended playing time this preseason as he adjusts to his new position, and his coverage skills will be tested with matchups against established tight ends from Houston and San Diego, Owen Daniels and Antonio Gates.
It will be interesting to see how opponents attack Smith's zone in the passing game, and how frequently the 49ers drop him into coverage. "Covering receivers and being consistent with his coverage" are admittedly Smith's biggest challenges.
But no one seems too concerned.
"Aldon, he's a beast out there," Brooks said of his new counterpart. "He doesn't need too many bugs in his ear. Just let him go out there and play the game of football."
"Going into (Friday's) game," Smith said. "I'm a lot more confident. The butterflies aren't there as much."