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Smith unconcerned with hype in chase of sacks mark

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Smith unconcerned with hype in chase of sacks mark

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Aldon Smith hardly has a free moment to stop at his locker, much less give thought to any intriguing matchups or scenarios as he chases Michael Strahan's single-season NFL sacks record.

Yet, come Sunday at Candlestick Park, it won't be the injured Jake Long lining up at left tackle for the Miami Dolphins against the 49ers defensive menace but rather rookie replacement Jonathan Martin. He is a former Stanford player plenty familiar to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and the rest of the staff - and the young offensive lineman suddenly faces the daunting challenge of slowing down the NFL's sacks leader.

``I've just got to take advantage of the opportunity,'' Smith said.

Smith has 17 1/2 sacks, already tying Fred Dean's franchise-best total set in 1983. Next up: getting the 5 1/2 sacks he needs over the final four games to break Strahan's mark of 22 1/2 sacks set in 2001 with the New York Giants.

``What does he have, 17 1/2 sacks?'' Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. ``In 12 games, that's quite a pace he's on. He's kind of got a knack for getting to the quarterback and sniffing things out. He's a good rusher when the quarterbacks drop back, he does a good job containing when the quarterbacks try to bootleg his way, he does a good job hustling and chasing down quarterbacks when they're maybe extending a play.

The 6-foot-4, 258-pound Smith has long arms, a quick burst of speed off the snap and a relentless approach to pass rushing that Philbin described as ``some kind of natural wiggle in him as a pass rusher.''

``He's chasing history, and he's going to keep doing what he does to make the plays and help the team win,'' said defensive mate Justin Smith, who has at least a half sack in each of his last three games. ``If along the way he gets the record, so be it. We're all pulling for him, hope he gets it, and we're pretty confident he will.''

Last week, Smith's sack of Sam Bradford late in the first half at St. Louis gave him an NFL-best 31 1/2 in his first two seasons, a half-sack better than Reggie White's previous record in 1985-86. While Smith has publicly said he wants to be Defensive Player of the Year and top in sacks, he is more concerned with doing his part to put San Francisco in the best position heading to the playoffs next month.

``We'll talk about it when it matters,'' Smith said.

Smith recorded 5 1/2 of his sacks for San Francisco (8-3-1) against Bears backup Jason Campbell on Monday Night Football on Nov. 19, earning him NFC Defensive Player of the Week.

Every week, Smith shows the rest of the NFL just what a menacing presence he is by making plays every which way. The 49ers selected Smith seventh overall in the first round of the 2011 draft out of Missouri - and he became an instant impact player like many of the others chosen by general manager Trent Baalke the past two drafts.

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill hopes his encounters with Smith will be few. They faced off during college when Tannehill played at Texas A&M.

``I didn't realize, I guess, the player he is and he turned out to be at the time,'' Tannehill said. ``I knew they had a good defensive end. In college, you study more defenses in general instead of focusing on players and names. You don't put in so much time into that, but I definitely know who he is and we'll be looking out for him.''

Smith's matchup against Martin is far more favorable than if he were facing Long, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday with an injured left triceps.

Not that Smith thinks making sacks will be any easier.

``I think if you get wrapped up in something that's on the periphery that sometimes you don't have control over, sometimes it could be a distraction,'' Fangio said. ``I think he's handled it pretty good so far. Every week in the NFL is a tough assignment no matter who you're going against.''

Philbin has no concerns about Martin being ready for the task Sunday - and the 49ers coaches who know Martin well from his Stanford days realize he wouldn't be put in such a position if he couldn't handle the load. He protected No. 1 pick Andrew Luck's blindside for three years in college, after all, before Miami selected him 42nd overall in the second round.

``This guy hasn't batted an eye,'' Philbin said. ``I mean he walked in here and has been a starter since the day he got here basically, and he just keeps working. He doesn't say a whole lot, he just works and he's diligent.''

Notes: WR Mario Manningham, nursing a shoulder injury, isn't sure whether he will play Sunday. ``Just taking it day by day, just see how it feels every day,'' he said. ... CB Chris Culliver said he was limited Wednesday because, ``I had the sniffles, still getting over it.''... The 49ers celebrated the placing of the highest gold-painted steel beams - about 200 feet above the ground - in the construction of their new stadium adjacent to team headquarters. The $1 billion stadium is set to open in 2014.

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Pre-draft workouts begin; Michigan's Moe Wagner goes 1-on-1

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USA Today Sports Images

Wizards Tipoff podcast: Pre-draft workouts begin; Michigan's Moe Wagner goes 1-on-1

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chris Miller caught up with Michigan star Moe Wagner after his workout with the Wizards.

Chris and Chase Hughes also gave their impressions of the first prospects to come in for pre-draft workouts, including which guys are most likely to be Wizards. One of those prospects is a point guard and a likely first round pick. Chase and Chris explain why that's not a crazy idea, even considering the presence of John Wall on their roster.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

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Associated Press

Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

The NFL has passed two major on-field rule changes in the last two months. One, the rule that prohibits players from lowering their helmets to initiate contact with another player. That one passed during the spring meetings in March but it was just recently clarified. The other one changes how kickoffs are executed. 

Both rules, designed to make the game safer for the players, could have a major impact on the game. And the Redskins are still a little unclear about how to handle them. 

Safety D.J. Swearinger is one of the Redskins’ hardest hitters. After saying that the helmet-lowering rule, which is outlined in some detail in this video from the NFL, would not affect him because he hits low, he wondered why he was even wearing a hard hat at work. 

“I’ve got a helmet on, but I can’t use it or hit nobody with it, might as well take the helmet off if you ask me,” said Swearinger following the Redskins’ OTA practice on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, coach Jay Gruden had not yet been filled in on the details of the helmet-lowering rule. He said that the team will sort it out over the three and a half months between now and the start of the regular season. 

“The lowering of the helmet, I don’t know which ones they decided to go with, so we’ll see,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about bull rushes and they’re trying to obviously protect the players, but we’ve just got to be careful.”

Gruden said that special teams coach Ben Kotwica went to meetings to help hash out the kickoff rule. What they ended up with looks a lot like another special teams play according to the player who will be executing the kickoffs. 

“It looks like they’re trying to make it more like a punt,” said kicker Dustin Hopkins. Among the similarities are that the kicking team will not be able to get a running start as the kicker approaches the ball. They will have to be stationary a yard away from the line where the ball is until it is kicked. 

The league probably will be happy if the play does more closely resemble a punt. The injury rate on punt plays is much lower than it is on kickoffs. 

Some believe that this change will lead to longer kickoff returns. Gruden didn’t disagree, but he said that he needs more information. 

“I think without the guys getting a running start, number one, it could be,” he said. “I think it’s just something I have to see it before I can really make any judgments on it.”

The new rule prohibits wedge blocking meaning that you are unlikely to see any offensive linemen on kickoffs as they were used primarily to create or break wedges. 

“I think for the most part, you’re going to see more speed guys,” said Gruden.

The Redskins will start to wrap their heads around the new rule during the next three weeks, when they have their final two weeks of OTAs and then minicamp before the break for training camp. Gruden said that they will continue to work on it in Richmond. He said that the joint practices with the Jets and the four preseason game will be important for sorting out just how the team will implement kickoffs. 

The best way to handle it might be to just let Hopkins pound the ball into the end zone every time. Last year 72.5 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. He could have had more touchbacks, but he occasionally was told to kick it high to force a return with the hope of getting better field position. But if the rules lead to longer returns it may not be worth the risk. 

More 2018 Redskins

- 53-man roster: Player one-liners, offense
- Tandler’s Take: Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2018
- OTAs: Practice report: Smith sharp
- Injuries: Kouandjio out for the season

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.