49ers

Baalke: Aldon Smith will be every-down player

680236.jpg

Baalke: Aldon Smith will be every-down player

INDIANAPOLIS -- The 49ers kept Aldon Smith's role simple during his rookie season.Smith was listed as an outside linebacker. But, in reality, did not play that position. Instead, the 49ers used Smith almost exclusively as a defensive end to rush the passer in nickel situations.This season, Smith can expect a large increase in his playing time. And he will be a true outside linebacker in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme.General manager Trent Baalke was asked Thursday morning whether Smith will be an every-down player in 2012."Huh," he said laughing. "Yeah. I think that's safe to say. Yes."RELATED: Aldon Smith 2011 game logs
Last season, veteran Parys Haralson played right outside linebacker on base downs to mostly defend the run. Smith replaced him at right defensive end when the 49ers went with a four-man line in passing situations.On the other side, Ahmad Brooks started at left outside linebacker and moved to left defensive end in pass-rush situations. Brooks is not signed for next season. He is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 13.RELATED: Ahmad Brooks' replacement is already on 49ers' rosterBaalke reflected back on the evaluation of Aldon Smith from a year ago at the NFL scouting combine. The 49ers selected Smith with the No. 7 overall pick, and he led all rookies with 14 sacks in the regular season."We were very high on Aldon from the first time we put on the film," Baalke said. "I can say that with no reservations. He was a guy who on film told us everything we needed to know about him physically. Then, it was just getting to know him better and finding out the wiring, the character, the makeup of the individual.RELATED: Q&A with 49ers GM Trent Baalke from NFL combine
"There are a lot of guys who have the physical talent to play and play well in the National Football League but, for whatever reason, they don't. And it usually comes back to their wiring."

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

ahkello-witherspoon-knee-49ers-chargers-usatsi.jpg
USATSI

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.”

* * *

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

pierre-ap.jpg
AP

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.