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49ers pleased with Aldon Smith's progress at LB

49ers pleased with Aldon Smith's progress at LB

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) The San Francisco 49ers figured they were in for a long term project when they selected Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith with the No. 6 pick in the 2011 draft.

They're happy to have been proven wrong.

At the time of the draft the team viewed Smith as an outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's 3-4 scheme, despite the fact the 20-year-old played solely with his hand in the dirt in his two college seasons.

``He was never standing up at Missouri. And as a matter of fact, he played about half the time, or I would say at least 40 percent of the time, he was a defensive tackle for Missouri,'' Fangio said. ``So, he always had his hand down. So, you never were able to see that on film. You had to just project that.''

With Parys Haralson and Ahmad Brooks entrenched at the two outside linebacker spots last season, the team was able to bring Smith along slowly. In practice, he learned the nuances of playing in coverage and run support, but on game days he was sent on the field in passing situations to rush the quarterback as a defensive end.

The role was a good fit for Smith, who set the franchise rookie record with 14 sacks, but it was clear by season's end that Smith was too talented for such a minimal role. He was ready to be upgraded to an every-down linebacker, which can be a rocky transition.

``You just give him enough repetitions at it, both on the practice field and in the film room, to where he learns it and understands it,'' Fangio said. ``And then if he's good enough talent-wise to do it, he can do it. In this case he is. So, he's learned well both on the field and in the classroom, and he's talented enough to transfer it into a good result.''

Through four games as a true every-down linebacker this season, Smith is pleased with his progress. His 4.5 sacks account for more than half the team's total (8) and place him in a seventh-place tie in the NFL with Miami linebacker Cameron Wake. Smith admitted his play recognition and coverage skills need to improve, but feels he's on the right track there, too.

Perhaps more than anything, Smith is enjoying more time on the field.

``It's more fun,'' he said. ``Definitely just playing more is the biggest thing and then being able to get out there and contribute more to the team is big.''

Playing on a defense that features five guys who were named to the Pro Bowl last season, Smith was able to fly under the radar to a degree, especially early in the season.

Not anymore.

``I think (opposing teams are) doing more things like adding more people blocking to my side and making my life more difficult,'' said Smith, who plays on the right side of the defense behind All-Pro defensive end Justin Smith. ``They can't block everybody. If they're going to double somebody, someone else is going to be left open.''

Over the past two seasons, Aldon Smith ranks fourth in the NFL in sacks (18.5) behind Dallas' Demarcus Ware (24.5), Minnesota's Jared Allen (24) and Philadelphia's Jason Babin (20.5).

``We didn't have a doubt with Aldon,'' All-Pro linebacker Navorro Bowman said. ``He showed us what he could do with the pass and now he's playing out there on first and second down and doing a great job at it. I look forward to him continuing to get better and helping us as a defense.''

The 49ers rank third in the NFL in total defense (277.2 ypg) heading into Sunday's home game against Buffalo and fourth in scoring defense (16.2 ppg).

Preparation this week has been unique for both Smiths as Bills starting left tackle Cordy Glenn will miss the game with an ankle injury. With Glenn sidelined, they'll see a lot of matchups with his replacement, second-year pro Chris Hairston, who has started just seven games in his career and none this season.

``I can't look at that one person,'' Aldon Smith said. ``Instead of studying that person the whole week, I just have to study my rush and how I'm going to attack the quarterback.''

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

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