Some may look at Aldon Smith’s second season with the 49ers and focus on the fact he didn’t have a single sack over the final six games, including the postseason.
Others may see Smith as having a breakout year as a starting, fulltime outside linebacker, one in which he had 19½ sacks and 66 tackles as a full-fledged member of a fab four with Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks.
As he goes into this offseason and begins work toward the 2013 season, Smith is focusing on just one thing:
In 2012, he proved he could go from a rookie pass-rush specialist to full-time, playmaking linebacker. Now he wants to continue that arc of improvement.
“Overall, just the whole game,” he told 49ers.com recently. “Better at everything. I don’t think I’m a perfect player by any means. I want to get better at everything I’m doing.”
One way Smith believes he can improve is through an offseason with former Olympic wrestler and current UFC fighter Daniel Cormier, according to Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group.
He’s already begun mixed martial arts training with Cormier at San Jose’s American Kickboxing Academy.
“I’ll get him in crazy shape,” Cormier told Inman after a recent session with Smith. “You see how he was huffing and puffing? I’ll get him in shape so he can go 10 plays in a row without needing a break.”
In 2012, Smith appeared he was on his way to breaking the NFL’s single-season sack record of 22½, with 19½ in his first 13 games. But Smith failed to get a sack in his final three regular-season games – at a time when defensive end Justin Smith was out of the lineup, allowing defenses to better focus on stopping No. 99 – and in the NFC playoffs and Super Bowl.
Still, Smith finished just one sack behind NFL leader J.J. Watt of the Texans, set a 49ers franchise record for season sacks and was voted by coaches the team’s MVP. It was a great encore to a 2011 season when he shined as a pass-rush specialist, and Smith believes his 2012 performance proves he’s an all-around linebacker, not just a guy who can go after the passer.
“What I’m trying to do is establish myself as one of the best players, not just the best pass-rusher,” he told 49ers.com.
Yet Smith saw how defenses began sending more blockers his way late in the season, and knows he needs to get better to stay ahead of other teams’ adjustments.
“If that’s going to keep happening where I get that many guys blocking me, I need to take myself to the next level so nothing can stop me,” he told Inman.
After two seasons as a pro, Smith says he’s learned what he needs to do to keep improving, and he’s already looking ahead to being an even better player. Losing the Super Bowl was a disappointment, he says, but, “You lose and you have two choices: You either complain about it or you train for next season.”
Which is why he’s taken up mixed martial arts. Said Cormier, to Inman: “It shows he’s ready to improve himself in different ways.”