Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After Aldon: Where will the Pressure Come From?

Aug 7, 2015 at 4:30 PM7

Videos are auto-populated by an affiliate. This site has no control over the videos that appear above.
Aldon Smith's arrest (and subsequent release from the 49ers) has hit the 49ers organization and the 49er Faithful hard. With serious star power leaving the defensive roster this offseason, many were looking to full seasons from Smith and Navorro Bowman to stabilize the defense and help return the unit to a source of game-changing dominance. Smith's return should have contributed to a devastating pass rush, which would protect a defensive secondary in transition. While Bowman's return has been inspiring, Smith's release raises questions about the quality of the pass rush. Can the 49ers generate sacks? Can the pass rush keep opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket, leading to incompletions and interceptions? Will the edge rushers run out of gas by the end of the season?

The interior pass rushers should be the same, and they should be very good. Darnell Dockett has always been more disruptive as an interior pass rusher than he has as a run stopper. The 49ers staff apparently intends to allow him to focus on pass rushing, as his practice repetitions have been limited to the nickel defense. Keeping him fresh and allowing him to attack in a style that has been successful for him throughout his career should allow him to remain aggressive and disruptive.

Tank Carradine has had much less experience than Dockett, but he generated three sacks in his three starts last year, and he has remarkable strength and speed for his size. He was described with varying hyperbolic terms coming out of college, ranging from "freak" to "monster." In his third year, he will be counted on as a starter in the Nickel and Dime personnel groups to collapse the pocket from the inside.

Quinton Dial and Arik Armstead should rotate in with Dockett and Carradine. Both boast impressive strength and long levers, and both are impressive bull rushers who can collapse the pocket and restrict passing lanes.

The outside rush, provided primarily by the outside linebackers, will have to adjust significantly in response to Aldon Smith's release. Those remaining outside linebackers are Ahmad Brooks, Aaron Lynch, Eli Harold, Cory Lemonier, and Marcus Rush. Brooks and Lynch collected 6 sacks each last season. The dismissal of Smith should cause some position changes, as well as a dramatic shift in practice reps.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Ahmad Brooks has elite athleticism and the big game presence to play the hero in big moments during important games (ask Drew Brees). His motor and work ethic have come into question in the past, but he stayed at the practice for the offseason program, reported to camp in top shape, and dominated the first week of training camp. He will likely move from LOLB (aligning to the right side of he offense) to the ROLB position formerly held by Smith, as he did often during Smith's suspension last year. Aligning to the left of the offense will force him to face the best pass protector, but also allow him a blind approach to the quarterback.

Aaron Lynch came on dramatically last year and displaced a fat and disinterested Brooks from the LOLB position last year. Lynch has long, powerful arms that have lent to comparisons between him and Aldon Smith. His college strength coach called out his work ethic after the draft, but he seemed completely engaged and committed last year, from camp all the way through the season. He has currently been absent from team drills, and often leaves the practice field after performing individual drills with a member of the training staff. He struggled through a hamstring strain in the offseason, and various beat writers have reported that he looks out of shape. It is possible that he reverted to the habits that caught the ire of his old strength coach and reported to camp out of shape because he simply elected not to work on his strength and conditioning. It seems far more likely that his workouts were limited by his hamstring injury, and those limited workouts were not enough to keep him in peak condition. Whether his recovery or work ethic are to blame for compromising his fitness, the 49ers will count on him to return to form before the season starts, as he will likely be favored to win the starting spot opposite Brooks.

Eli Harold is an explosive athlete that doesn't boast the elite length of an Aldon Smith or Aaron Lynch. He does, however, have an electric first step and a surprising collection of pass rushing moves for a rookie. Most rookies with his acceleration and athleticism coasted through college with a basic speed rush, and have to develop counter moves when they encounter NFL pass protectors. The main question about Harold coming out in the draft was his narrow waist (I'm not kidding). The thought presented by many scouting services was that his narrow trunk would restrict him from converting speed to power, which would greatly limit his ability to keep offensive tackles off balance throughout a game full of pass rushing opportunities. Judging from the number of reports involving Harold planting 49er linemen in the chopped up soil, I'd say this concern was misplaced. Harold should provide a challenging change of pace off of the bench, instantly threatening the edge against tackles who have repeatedly had to set strong against the explosive power of Lynch and Brooks.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Up to this point in his career, Cory Lemonier has been a pure speed rusher who has struggled to diversify his skill set. He enjoyed some success as a rookie, but the book was out on him last year, and tackles learned to kick back quickly and set wide to compensate for his speed, with little worry of being exposed by an inside counter or bull rush. If Lemonier is to make any mark on this roster, he will need to use his hands more aggressively to keep OL from controlling him, develop counter moves when his speed rush is stymied, and use his speed rush to set up tackles for an unexpected bull rush (speed to power) or stunt.

Marcus Rush is a little undersized for a 3-4 OLB, but he has enjoyed some success in training camp, exhibiting impressive quick-twitch athleticism and winning some 1 on 1 matchups. His best chance for sticking on the roster involves him outperforming Lemonier on special teams and proving that he is not too small to set the edge in the running game and challenge the edge on passing downs.

Stephen Lam-Reuters

The wild card contender to provide an outside rush is Lawrence Okoye. He is the only player on the roster whose freakish athleticism can rival that of Aldon Smith. He has already received repetitions at the DE position in Nickel sets, which generally are reserved for the OLBs. His game is far less nuanced, and his lack of experience might make him a little slow to read a tackle's pass set and counter properly, but he might approximate the effect a rookie Aldon Smith had on opponents in 2011: a freakishly strong, surprisingly fast force exploding off the edge with more power than technique, collapsing an entire side of the pocket. He's still a long shot to make the team, but his odds improve in Smith's absence.

Eric Mangini has never shied from using his defensive backs to bolster the pass rush, and Navorro Bowman has the ability to make guards look silly, so the Nickel front won't be responsible for placing all of the pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That said, the 49ers have several attractive options, and significant depth, remaining on the roster to harass signal callers this season.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Tony
    I'm looking at this loss as a half full not half empty situation. Let's face it, Aldon has been a non-factor the last 2 seasons with his legal issues, suspensions and ineffective return. Yet our D did quite well without him. I also question just how effective he'd be without Justin alongside. Yes, his skillset is impressive, when he is actually able to employ it, but, how long ago was that, exactly? We've got some guys that just might surprise us. Let's see what they've got before commiting sepuku!
    Aug 13, 2015 at 4:19 PM
  • Nick
    As much of a potential loss of Aldon Smith, I agree when you say that he has only started 1 of the 4 seasons mostly by choice. The biggest loss this season on D will be Justin Smith as Aldon was never the same player without him. I believe by the bye week we will have forgotten about A. Smith as Lynch and Harold will step in and develop just as effective and definitley more consistent than Aldon ever was. Its been the off-season from hell but I do believe the moves made in the draft will make us forget. Great article!
    Aug 10, 2015 at 1:20 PM
  • Dave
    I don't think that there is any one player on the roster that can replace there skill and talent that Smith brought to the defense. However, there may be a combination of players who can, like you said due to his actual numbers, replace his actual production. Good stuff as always Aaron.
    Aug 9, 2015 at 1:50 PM
  • Chris
    In regards to the Response below to my original comment: The point Is that the loss of Aldon Smith is the straw the broke the camels back. How can any fan feel anything other than discouraged, and disappointed by this organization from top to bottom. When leadership shows no promise of a bright future, we as fans find ourselves in a dark place. As for this Article. . . If you think there is one player, or multiple player's on this roster that can replace the production of Aldon Smith, you need a reality check. This Legendary organization deserves better than Mediocre.
    Aug 8, 2015 at 1:18 PM
    Response: It appears that you are stating several opinions as facts. Aldon Smith has rare talent. In his four seasons, he has been a full time starter for one of those seasons. As such, his average production is not terribly hard to reproduce. It may seem like cherry - picking to include his suspensions when calculating his average, but the reality is that he missed those games due to his own choices, and there has been no evidence that suggests those choices are at an end. In regard to your disappointment with the organization and FO, I would encourage you to attempt to determine what the 53 man roster will look like. I believe you will find several difficult cuts to make. That tends to indicate a deep and talented roster.
  • Chris
    It is an absolutely sad time to be a Niner fan. This team has been decimated from top to bottom. I have been a fan since the 80's and I can't remember a time of feeling so disappointed in this organization. York is the worst owner in history. He looks like pre pubescent teen, and makes decisions like one as well. Baalke is an absolute nightmare of a GM who cares more about creating a hierarchy of people that worship him, than assembling an organization of capable talent. We now have a QB that is immature, and does not even know how to play the quarterback position. He throws a 100mph fast ball even when the receiver is 5 yards away. He has no idea of what putting touch on the ball is. Without Aldon on this team I have no interest in watching this low talent team get whooped up on every Sunday. I have watched the low talent 49er teams of the past, but I have never felt so much like a team, and organization is lost like the current team. I wish we could just fire York, and Baalke, and start fresh. Sad, sad time to be a Niner fan.
    Aug 8, 2015 at 11:02 AM
    Response: Other than the late mention of the name, "Aldon," I'm not sure how your comment relates to this article. Trent Baalke is not flawless as a GM, but he has amassed enough talent on theis roster to make this article possible. This article describes several pass rushers who are not as talented or accomplished as Aldon Smith, but who are already on the roster and are possessed of significant talent and skill. If you do choose not to watch any 49ers games this year, that is certainly up to you. I won't be joining you.
  • JD
    I sure hope one of these guys can fill in for Aldon. After everything that has happened this offseason, it would be nice to have a surprise player this year. Anyone who thinks that Smith will be easy to replace *ahem* below *ahem* is absolutely kidding themselves. It is tough to replace a top pass rushing talent like Smith. This group was already going to be interesting to watch. It will be even more so now that they have lost yet another rare talent.
    Aug 7, 2015 at 8:39 PM
  • Ted
    They were fine without him last year for 75% of the games, no story here lol.
    Aug 7, 2015 at 6:54 PM

Facebook Comments

More San Francisco 49ers News

Will the 49ers restructure Dre Greenlaw's contract after LB's injury?

By David Bonilla
Feb 20

The injury to Dre Greenlaw during Super Bowl 58 dealt a significant blow to the San Francisco 49ers' defense. The impact of his absence was obvious, as evidenced by Fred Warner's emotional reaction on the sideline after his teammate and friend was carted off to the locker room. This hurts to watch so much. Via @NFL— Ari M (@AriMeirov) February 15,

Cutting Through the Noise After the 49ers' Super Bowl Loss

By John Porter
Feb 20

Since the last pass of Super Bowl LVIII (I couldn't even tell you what happened in the aftermath, nor who caught the pass, I turned off as soon as the ball hit his hands), I've surprised myself. One would anticipate that I may have gone through the seven stages usually associated with grief, particularly since it was the third heart-shattering Super Bowl loss of my fandom (I'm a UK Niner who has, in some way, managed to watch, at times excruciatingly, every down of every season since 2005). Alas, no. I'm not even stuck in denial. It happened, we lost, but for once, I accepted it. I had my moments of despair, but overall, I was quite looking forward to a long break from the game, a chance to breathe, reset, and hopefully come back next year. Then, the crushing avalanche of

Why Chiefs' Steve Spagnuolo reached out to 49ers' Brock Purdy after the Super Bowl

By David Bonilla
Feb 23

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy has earned a fan in Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Following the Chiefs' victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl 58, Spagnuolo made sure to extend his regards to Purdy. "I just texted Brock the other day," Spagnuolo disclosed in a recent conversation with Peter Schrager on "The Season" podcast. "I tried to track down his cell number. I just wanted to tell him how much respect I have for him [and] what a terrific game he played. He's such a quality guy, strong Christian man, and I respect all of that, and I'm happy for all the success." Naturally, while Spagnuolo is content that Purdy didn't overly excel in the Super Bowl, he expressed admiration for the young quarterback, saying, "I think Brock


More by Aaron Erickson

More Articles

Share 49ersWebzone