Aldon Smith's quick transition to NFL success


Aldon Smith's quick transition to NFL success

SANTA CLARA -- Aldon Smith was named NFL defensive rookie of the month for his play at defensive end for the 49ers in October.Smith is listed as an outside linebacker, but he's really a defensive end . . . at least for now.Any secrets to Aldon's quick transition to the NFL? Wasn't he supposed to be a project? (@Joshuahss)
The quick transition was not completely unexpected. It has been pointed out here that it's not uncommon for good pass-rushers to show up in the NFL at early stages in their careers.Sure, there is typically some development that takes place. But pass-rush ability is a skill that, history has shown, can transition from college to the pro ranks. Guys whose job it is to hound the quarterback generally either have it or not.RELATED: Aldon Smith named NFL defensive rookie of the month
And Smith showed signs of being outstanding in that area from the first day he put on pads and started practicing with his new teammates."He's really good," 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said the 49ers' No. 7 overall pick on July 31. "He's a really talented player. I can see why they drafted him as high as they did. I'm just so excited he's on our team. Going up against him every day is going to make me better. Because he's one of those dudes that presents a challenge for tackles. . . . It's not every day you see guys with huge long arms but also the size and the strength to go along with it."Staley was talking about Smith's pass-rush skills. That's when he's at defensive end, where he mostly played at Missouri.Where everybody figured his transition would be rough was when it came to standing up and playing outside linebacker.On Aug. 28 after the Houston Texans blew out the 49ers in an exhibition game, coach Jim Harbaugh was asked if Smith were ready to make the transition to being an every-down outside linebacker."I think he's in a process right now," Harbaugh said.Smith has natural pass-rush ability with his large, vise-grip hands, his 35-38-inch-long arms and his unique combination of strength and quickness. But standing up and playing outside linebacker is a completely different skill set.He is not on the Pro Bowl ballot because he is not a starter. Parys Haralson has been the 49ers' right outside linebacker on first and second downs. And Haralson has played very well in that role.Of course, the 49ers envision Smith as a player who'll eventually play every down. Prior to the 49ers' Week 2 game against the Dallas Cowboys, Smith lined up in practice with the scout team as DeMarcus Ware. (Ware already has 12 sacks this season.)
Aldon Smith played the role of Ware in practice against the 49ers' No. 1 offense. Now, with 6.5 sacks in his past four games, Smith's play during games is looking a lot like Ware, as well.

What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense


What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense

SANTA CLARA – Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon did not win the right to suit up for the 49ers’ first four games. Behind the scenes, he made it his mission to earn a contributing role.

“He really started to get better with his coordination with his feet from the bump-and-run coverage and from playing ‘off.’ There’s always a light that goes on,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And we felt that for a couple weeks from Ahkello. Once he did that, he definitely earned the right to be out there.”

The plan was for Witherspoon to rotate into the action and share time with starters Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson. But he played just six snaps on Oct. 8 against Indianapolis before sustaining a concussion. Witherspoon returned to action last week and played 34 of the 49ers’ 74 snaps last week at Washington. He showed enough to coninue getting significant playing time.

“He’s earned the right to play,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He works his tail off in practice. He’s so deliberate in his approach. Whether it was scout team, whether it was team reps, whether it was walk-through, it didn’t matter.”

Witherspoon, the 49ers’ third-round draft pick at No. 66 overall, had a pedestrian training camp. Taking his lumps in August showed him what he needed to do to get into real games in October.

“I really turned up my focus, my intent every day in practice,” Witherspoon said. “What I did in camp wasn’t good enough to be a starting corner in this league, and that’s what I learned.

“I really focused on being aware of what it takes. That’s something I implemented these last four weeks -- that every day focus and competing on every single ball, and taking the mindset that no ball’s caught on me. I think that’s really helped my game, and helped these coaches trust me, as well.”

Witherspoon expected Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins to attack him. But of the 25 plays he was in coverage last week, Witherspoon saw only three passes come his way. He surrendered two receptions for 33 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Just being a rookie, I thought it was going to come, where they were going to be taking that one shot,” Witherspoon said. “I kept waiting for it to happen, but it didn’t happen. Going up against a smart quarterback, I know he saw me out there.

“There were a few times he looked my way in coverage. I wasn’t perfect in coverage, but I think he was looking. And I thought I did a good job.”

Witherspoon (6 foot 3, 195 pounds) is comfortable lining up on either side of the field, which he did during his college career at Colorado. He said he has not put on much weight but he has added more muscle, which has allowed him a better chance to compete physically against bigger NFL receivers.

Witherspoon fully expects to be challenged on Sunday when he is expected to see considerable playing time against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium. Witherspoon figures Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will be paying particularly close attention any time Dez Bryant lines up on his side of the field.

“They’re going to be looking at the ‘rook,’ ” Witherspoon said.

Said Shanahan, “They’re going to try to do that with all our DBs, so I don’t think it even matters who’s out there. They’re going to attack when we’re in single safety, which we are the majority of the time. They’re going to go outside and keep going out there until you stop them.”

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch Kyle Shanahan's full sit-down interview with Matt Maiocco on "49ers Game Plan," which is scheduled to air Saturday at 9 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).

49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine


49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine

The NFL fined 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon $24,309 for unnecessary roughness in last week’s game against Washington.

Garçon, who was not penalized on the play, lowered his helmet and struck Washington safety Montae Nicholson at the end of an 8-yard pass reception in the second quarter.

In 2013, the NFL passed a rule that bans the ball carrier from initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field.

Nicholson’s helmet flew off and he remained on the ground for a couple of minutes. He was evaluated for a possible concussion and shoulder injury. However, Nicholson was cleared and he returned to action.

After the play, Garçon and Washington safety D.J. Swearinger exchanged words, and Swearinger took a swipe at Garçon’s facemask. Swearinger was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The NFL fined Swearinger $9,115 for unnecessary roughness.