49ers key matchup No. 3: Aldon Smith vs. Jermon Bushrod

November 23, 2012, 6:34 pm
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This is the first part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Saints matchups to watch Sunday, 1:25 p.m. (FOX), at the Superdome.49ers OLB Aldon Smith vs. Saints LT Jermon BushrodTale of the tape
Smith (99): 6-foot-4, 258 pounds, second season, Missouri
Bushrod (74): 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, sixth season, TowsonAldon Smith did not play favorites Monday night. He saw most of his action in pass-rush situations coming off the left edge, but he also achieved a couple of sacks working from the other side.Smith has been outstanding in his first season as an every-down player with a smooth transition to setting the edge in the run game. And, in his first two seasons, he's had few peers when he comes to going after the quarterback.With 29 sacks since breaking into the NFL, Smith has the third-highest total in NFL history for a player in his first two seasons since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. Reggie White had 31 sacks in two seasons and Derrick Thomas recorded 30. Smith still has six games, including Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, to add or surpass those marks."He reminds me of Derrick Thomas, watching him with his arm length and the way he can slither, his great get-off," Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt said this week in a conference call with Bay Area reporters. "I think that's one of the best compliments I can givehim."Vic Fangio, the 49ers' defensive coordinator, said he believes Smith has an even greater variety of options than Thomas, the late Kansas City Chiefs' Hall of Famer."Aldon's more of a combination of strength, size, speed, slither, long arms," Fangio said. "I think Aldon's more of a variety-type pass rusher. Where Thomas, Hall of Famer in his own right, was a speed-rusher."Smith figures to be matched up plenty against left tackle Jermon Bushrod. He'll also take a few swings at right Zach Strief, if he plays after being limited this week with a groin injury. Bushrod has started at left tackle for the Saints the past four seasons. He was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team last season.It won't be easy to get to Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who gets rid of the ball quickly to a variety of threats in the passing game. Brees is averaging 306.6 yards passing per game and he's been sacked only 16 times in 10 games.
Smith recorded 5.5 sacks against the Chicago Bears on Monday night, as he destroyed left tackle J'Marcus Webb and right tackle Gabe Carimi. Carimi was benched this week after his struggles against Smith, who leads the NFL with 15 sacks.
Smith entered the league known for his speed-rushes, but he demonstrated overwhelming strength against the Bears with his bull-rushes."I think he's always had really good strength," Fangio said. "He has gotten stronger from Year 1 to Year 2 with an offseason in here working out with our strength staff. But he's always had good, strong, natural, brute strength and he's got strong hands, too. And the combination of that, his length, and his slither ability, he's a tough guy to block."Smith said he has always had a variety of pass-rush moves, but he has a better opportunity to show them this season with his every-down role."I'm just in a lot more, so you see it a lot more," Smith said. "It's there. It's been there. I'm playing more."As a rookie, Smith entered the game at defensive end only when the 49ers were in their nickel defense. He played 48.2 percent of the 49ers' defensive snaps.Smith was slated to be the 49ers' every-down outside linebacker, replacing Parys Haralson even before Haralson sustained a season-ending torn triceps during the exhibition season.