Aldon Smith worked over Patriots tackle in college


Aldon Smith worked over Patriots tackle in college

SANTA CLARA -- Aldon Smith's finest game in college -- the one that started to draw national attention his way -- came against an offensive lineman who would later become a first-round draft pick.

On Sunday night, Smith again matches up against left tackle Nate Solder. In 2009, Smith, as a redshirt freshman, recorded three sacks against the highly touted Solder in Missouri's 36-17 victory over Colorado.

The combination of speed and power that Smith demonstrated in making life difficult for Solder helped convince the 49ers last year to select the pass-rusher with the No. 7 overall pick. In the same draft, the New England Patriots chose Solder at No. 17 overall.

"I'm sure he's improved," Smith said Thursday. "He made it this far. He's starting, so I assume so. I haven't watched that game in a long time, but I was able to get past him and create pressure back there."

Smith has been creating pressure ever since, too. Smith has 19.5 sacks in his second NFL season to set the 49ers' franchise record. He is just three sacks shy of Michael Strahan's NFL single-season record, which was set in 2001.

In that meeting in 2009, Smith had four total tackles for loss, in addition to taking down the Colorado quarterback three times.

"I was very impressed with Aldon Smith," Solder said afterward. "He's big, tall, athletic, strong and has real long arms. We had a real tough time with him."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has confidence in Solder, who stepped in to protect Brady's blind side after the retirement of Matt Light. Solder will face one of his biggest assignments of the season against the NFL's top sack artist.

"Sure, big challenge, but at that position, those guys see them every week," Belichick said on a conference call this week with Bay Area reporters. "Smith has a good combination of skills. He's strong. He can power rush. He can rush the edge. He's quick. He's got a good up-and-under move. He's got an outside move. He's got an inside move. And he can run over those guys.

"That's three pretty good pitches right there. It's hard to block them all. Nate's a good player in his own right. He's competed against a lot of good rushers this year and last year."

The Patriots top-ranked offense offers a big challenge for the 49ers on Sunday night in Foxboro, Mass. But Smith said he is confident that the 49ers' strength will make things rough on New England, too. The 49ers already have compiled road victories against Aaron Rodgers' Green Bay Packers and Drew Brees' New Orleans Saints.

"We can stop them," Smith said. "We've played good offenses before. This isn't our first offense we've played that has talent. Tape shows what happened. So we'll just put it back on tape again."

Smith has quickly emerged as one of the 49ers' marquee players. When NBC promoted the 49ers-Patriots game last week, they showed pictures of Tom Brady and Smith together on a graphic for Sunday Night Football.

"My friend sent me that picture, and I had just one word: 'Wow,'" Smith said. "It's Tom Brady. He's won Super Bowls. He's been in the league for 13-some years. And me. I just got here."

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals


Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blaine Gabbert will get his first start for the Arizona Cardinals when they play the Texans in Houston on Sunday.

Coach Bruce Arians announced the decision after Friday's practice.

Drew Stanton, the starter the last two games, bruised his knee early in the Thursday night loss to Seattle last week. He stayed in the game but has been limited in practice all week.

Arians said it will be a game-time decision as to whether Stanton or recently signed Matt Barkley would be Gabbert's backup.

Gabbert will be making his 41st NFL start. He has a 9-31 record. He signed with Arizona last offseason and was the third quarterback until Carson Palmer broke his arm against the Los Angeles Rams in London and was lost for the season.

49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?


49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?

Believe it or not, the 49ers’ offense is improved from last season.

The 49ers ranked 31st in the NFL in 2016, averaging 308.1 yards per game. Although the offense is producing just a little better (325.9 yards per game), their ranking this season has shot up to 21st in the league.

The 49ers have had a different head coach and different person running the offense in each of the past four seasons, so their continuity has been severely lacking.

Next season, the 49ers should finally have carryover from one season to the next.

The direction of the offense is one of the topics addressed on this edition of 49ers Mailbag (questions were submitted via Facebook):

Now that we have Jimmy G do you see 49ers getting an offensive coordinator or will it still be Kyle calling the plays? (Julio Orozco)
I'm not sure why the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo would have any impact on the 49ers’ offensive structure, but in any event, the answer is a resounding, “No.”

Kyle Shanahan has been hailed as one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL. The reason he was hired as 49ers head coach was, in large part, because of the success he achieved while designing offenses and calling plays.

Why would he give that up? It makes no sense.

Rob Demovsky of ESPN this week identified the 32 primary play-callers. There are 18 NFL head coaches with offensive backgrounds. Twelve of those coaches call their own plays.

Shanahan has a staff of assistant coaches on whom he leans. Passing game specialist Mike LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello are closely involved in working with Shanahan on the passing game, while running game specialist Mike McDaniel, offensive line coach John Benton and running backs coach Bobby Turner spearhead the involvement in the ground game.

But, make no mistake, it is Shanahan who calls the shots. And that's the way it should be. If Shanahan stepped aside as his own offensive coordinator, he would be diminishing his biggest strength as a coach.

What do you see happing with the Hyde situation? We drafted Joe Williams and Breida seems to be a bright spot. There’s a lot of talk about Barkley from Penn State with that high 1st rounder. (Manny Hinojos)
There does not seem to be any movement toward a long-term extension for Hyde. It is getting to the point in the season where it makes a lot more sense for Hyde to play out his contract and hit the open market.

There is no question in my mind the 49ers like Hyde a lot. He has scored some major points with the organization for his performance on the field and how he has responded off the field.

GM John Lynch loved it when Hyde came to the defense of quarterback C.J. Beathard, tussled with Arizona lineman Frostee Rucker and got ejected from the game.

That said, the 49ers are not going to break the bank for Hyde. A multi-year agreement has to come at the right price. My personal feeling is that running backs are luxury pieces when the remainder of a team’s roster -- especially the offensive line -- is set.

Shanahan and his father, Mike Shanahan, and Turner (the assistant coach who served on both of their staffs) have achieved a lot of success without investing heavily in running backs. That’s why I think the 49ers would be best-served by investing elsewhere and using another mid-round draft pick on a running back.

With Joshua Garnett coming back next season how aggressive will Lynch and Shanahan be in trying to get guards this offseason? (David Hartless)
Garnett is not a particularly good fit for this offensive scheme. The presence of Garnett can help increase the competition next offseason, but I do not believe he is being penciled in as a starter.

The 49ers will certainly be aggressive in an attempt to upgrade the guard positions. Currently, Laken Tomlinson and Brandon Fusco are the starters. Neither will be assured a starting job when the offseason begins.

The 49ers did not see enough from Garnett to determine he has a future with the organization, but he will be given the opportunity to come back healthy and prove himself.

Is Eric Reid in long-term plans? (Grant Rasmussen)
I do not believe so. I think the 49ers would like their starting safeties next season to be Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt – with Adrian Colbert as the front-runner for the No. 3 job.

The 49ers can also be expected to add a player or two in free agency, as well as the draft, to provide a competitive environment in the offseason. The 49ers seemed to telegraph their intention with Reid when they moved him to linebacker with Ward and Tartt remaining as the starting safeties.

That position change lasted about a week, as Ward’s injury prompted the team to move Reid back to safety. Reid is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. It's entirely possible there will not be a big market for him, but I do not believe the 49ers are going to be ultra-competitive in retaining him on the open market.