It might not be halfway through the San Francisco 49ers season, but it's just around the corner and with the team taking a bye week and sitting at 5-1 atop the NFC West, now is as good a time as any to take a look at the various positions and how they've looked thus far.
With the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft, the 49ers made Aldon Smith their pass rusher of the future. It was a move that most experts regarded with ... well, with very little opinion, as it happens. The big draft "gurus" gave weak explanations while the local beat writers covered his strong suits, but nobody could quite confess to having expected it in the slightest. Fans of the team, in particular, were almost universally confused and even angry. If you've ever wondered, the best way to make somebody irate is to confuse them.
So Smith came in and, despite the fact that most people weren't sure what to think of him, was expected to be the team's leading sack-getting and a starter sooner rather than later. Most experts were of the opinion that he'd take awhile to learn the position, and with the lockout eating up weeks of organized team activities, the odds were stacked even further against him.
But he did get playing time - and early. He was worked in on third downs, but eventually saw time on other downs in rotational work with Parys Haralson and Ahmad Brooks. And he produced. Smith now has 5.5 sacks on the season, with a forced fumble and a safety to his credit. He leads all rookies in sacks and is an early candidate for defensive rookie of the year - and is on pace to tie the rookie sack record, as well. He's got more sacks than Denver's Von Miller, who has five, and has seen the field less than Miller has.
Aldon Smith is a veritable windmill of calculated aggression off the line of scrimmage. When the ball is snapped, he doesn't so much as engage a blocker and pull him out of the way as he does use impressive leverage in his long arms to cast them aside in a way that ... quite honestly, doesn't look quite as impressive as a well-timed spin move or simply rush on the outside. When you realize he's tossing aside 300 pound linemen as though they're yesterday's trash .. it's a little more impressive.
He's still got a long way to grow. Smith isn't DeMarcus Ware just yet, but he's performing at or better than expectations right now and can only get better. He's also likely to get more playing time, as the times he's gone into coverage, he's looked good doing so. Either Haralson or Brooks are going to end up spending some more time on the bench while Smith continues his campaign for defensive rookie of the year when the Cleveland Browns come to town next Sunday.