49ers Mailbag II: Is Aldon Smith ready to start?

49ers Mailbag II: Is Aldon Smith ready to start?
October 8, 2011, 11:01 pm
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Rookie Aldon Smith recorded one tackle and no sacks in his first three games of the season. Last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, he recorded five tackles and 1.5 sacks.This edition of 49ers Mailbag leads off with a question about the No. 7 overall pick . . . Q: When do you see Aldon Smith becoming a starter? I'd like to see him play more. @sf_game
My answer: As long as Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson are healthy, I do not envision Aldon Smith moving into the starting lineup this season.The reason is because Haralson is a better outside linebacker, and Smith is a better defensive end. When the 49ers have their base defense on the field, Haralson plays right outside linebacker.And when the 49ers go with their nickel pass defense, featuring a four-man line, Smith takes his position at defensive end.Last week, the Eagles called 60 pass plays. They featured a lot of three-receiver formations. Therefore, the 49ers countered with five and six defensive backs. In those situations, Smith was on the field. So he played the majority of the game over Haralson.
Smith took advantage of his extended playing time to produce his best game of the season. But it was entirely as a defensive endpass rusher.Smith will not play as much Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Why? Because the Bucs do not use many three-receiver personnel packages other than third downs, two-minute drills and catch-up situations.Q: Do you expect Anthony Dixon to really get any more playtime versus the Bucs? @travisbarnette
My answer: No. I think the way the 49ers rotated their backs against the Eagles is pretty much how it's going to be for a while. Dixon is in the coaches' doghouse, as suggested by his comments to CSNBayArea.com on Friday. I expect Gore to start and play about 23 of the game with Kendall Hunter seeing the rest of the action. If Dixon plays on offense, I don't believe it'll be for more than a couple snaps.Q: Will Tampa Bay copy the Eagles and put Aqib Talib on Vernon Davis? If not, can either of Tampa's safeties keep up? @Msclemons67
My answer: It's an option, but I would not think it'll be a play-in, play-out strategy. Nnamdi Asomugha (6-foot-2) might be the biggest cornerback in the league. That's why the Eagles matched him up against Davis. Talib is 6-1, so it's possible he could be assigned to Davis on some calls. But I don't believe the Bucs will put one defender on Davis. More than likely, they'll continue to play their Tampa-2 defense, drop the middle linebacker deep and have their safeties attempt to pinch off that deep seam route to Davis.
Q: How much of an impact do you think we could see in the run game with RJF over Ice? @edbuto
My answer: Isaac Sopoaga had an outstanding year last season at left defensive end. And he has proven to be an upgrade over Aubrayo Franklin through four games at nose tackle. Sopoaga has been stout in the run game. Ricky Jean Francois is 35 pounds lighter. His job will be to keep the Bucs' guards and center from getting out to the linebackers and blocking Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. I believe there will be an impact. The Bucs will go after Jean Francois. And if they see a weakness there, they'll exploit it throughout the game.Q: What is the team doing to battle staph infections, and prevent other players from getting it? Serious issue! @Ali_Q8T
My answer: Yes, it is a serious issue. When 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was asked Friday what precautions the team has taken, he declined to answer. Seems to me that the club would want to talk about what it has done, rather than let there be any doubt. I do know that Sopoaga was kept away from the 49ers' practice facility during the week. The 49ers were on their way back from Philadelphia after 10 days away from Santa Clara when Sopoaga first began feeling ill. He was diagnosed with a staph infection -- the fourth time in four years a 49ers player has been affected.