The 49ers have an emerging defensive rookie of the year candidate in linebacker Aldon Smith, and on Sunday when they host the Cleveland Browns, he'll face his biggest test yet. Smith will be taking over the spot of Parys Haralson in nickel situations at right defensive end and, as always, folks are on the lookout for a potential expanded role for him and maybe some more snaps standing up. Either way, he'll be on the right side on Sunday.
Which means he'll be taking on Cleveland's left tackle, Joe Thomas. He's one of the premier left tackles in the NFL over the last four seasons, and he's not slowed down even a little bit. Thomas is 6'6'' and 312 pounds and is playing on a seven-year, $84 million deal right now. In other words, he is the very definition of a franchise left tackle.
It's a tall test for Smith, who is second among NFL rookies with 5.5 sacks on the season. Thomas is a guy who plays every snap as fresh as the first, and hasn't missed an offensive snap in 70 games. He's given up 1.5 sacks on the season and only gave up four sacks a year ago. Smith will have his work cut out for him, and pressure will definitely be a focal point of the 49ers defense on Sunday.
With Peyton Hillis looking like he's going to miss the game on Sunday, it will be up to Colt McCoy to lead the Browns offense to victory. With receiving targets Benjamin Watson and Mohamed Massaquoi coming off of concussions, the offense may be even more limited. McCoy may have to hold the ball longer than he'd like, and try to make things happen. That's one thing that's going in the rookie's favor.