By: Chris Sanchez (@Chucky__Sanchez)
This upcoming season, the San Francisco 49ers will feature a new look on defense. For the first time in years, they will no longer employ a 3-4 alignment. Newly-hired defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will roll out his own version of the Seattle 4-3 defense. Saleh worked from 2011-2013 in Seattle under Pete Carroll, and from 2014 to 2016 in Jacksonville under Gus Bradley. He is very familiar with the Seattle version of the 4-3 and will surely work hard this offseason in adapting that defense to the players on the 49ers roster.
However, none of the players on the 2016 49ers were familiar with the 4-3 defense. This made it crucial for 49ers management to find players to make the upcoming transition easier. John Lynch went out and signed inside linebacker Malcolm Smith, formerly of the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks. Smith earned Super Bowl 48 MVP honors while with the team from the great Northwest. While in Seattle, he was always stuck behind Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright on the depth chart. He had his moment of fame in the Super Bowl but then was allowed to be signed away by the Oakland Raiders during the 2015 offseason. In Oakland, he endured two lackluster seasons mainly due to being a part of a very underwhelming defensive unit.
Regardless, there is no denying Smith’s familiarity with the 4-3. He will more than likely serve a prominent role while this team adapts to the new scheme. His knowledge in the classroom and on the field will be very useful to the coaching staff and to the whole team. His presence will also allow his teammates to learn the new system at a faster pace. He will also enable his teammates to feed off his familiarity with the 4-3, thus allowing the defense to flow much smoother. Let’s take a look at some of the things Smith does well (and not so well) on the football field.
- Constantly finds a way to the ball. More often than not, you will see Smith in the middle of a play.
- Possesses deceptive speed. Adept at tracking down running backs and tight ends.
- Solid tackler. Once he wraps up a ball-carrier, he will not let go. A trait the 49ers have lacked for years.
- Elite awareness. Smith rarely loses sight of where the play is headed.
- Lacks ideal size for the position. Due to this, he will often get swallowed up by blocks.
- Seems to lose focus at times. I think for the last two seasons, this was probably a byproduct of playing in a bad defense.
- Underwhelming when rushing the quarterback. Does not possess enough pass-rush moves to get around blockers consistently.
Although Smith will not set the linebacker world on fire, he is a solid defender who plays with outstanding instincts. He definitely won’t be first-team All-Pro, but he will certainly produce at his position. More importantly, he will be instrumental in turning the 49ers defense around. He will lead by example because he knows this defense. Smith will help his teammates not get caught out of position. Once NaVorro Bowman is 100% healthy, Smith will be a perfect compliment to him in the middle of Saleh’s defense.
Stay tuned for the next part in our 2017 49ers Free Agency series!