For just a little while, Aldon Smith was the 49ers’ 48er.
That was the number the rookie linebacker wore when San Francisco opened training camp. But when jersey No. 99 opened up, Smith grabbed it.
It’s part of his game plan.
“I want to be the best, and 100 is the best you can be,” Smith told Cam Inman of the Bay Area Newspaper Group recently. “So 99 is the closest you can get to 100.”
Friday night, the former Missouri defensive end flashed the talent that prompted the Niners to select him with their first pick in the draft and seventh overall.
Now playing right outside linebacker, the 6-foot-4, 258-pounder with the long wingspan – 83 and 7/8 inches -- got significant playing time against the Saints and had five tackles (tied for team high), a sack and forced a fumble.
It was a glimpse into what Smith has been doing in practice. Teammates told the Sacramento Bee this week that Smith still has plenty to learn, but has two things that can’t be taught: strength and ferocity.
Friday night, head coach Jim Harbaugh liked what he saw in Smith’s debut.
“I think he flashed a few times and set the edge and used his long arms to make some tackles,” Harbaugh told Comcast Sportsnet.
Though the 49ers’ opener will mostly be remembered for how the Saints pressured and sacked quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick and dominated in winning 24-3, Aldon Smith’s reviews were excellent.
Not only did he have a sack and forced fumble, but he put pressure on QB Chase Daniel on another play, brought down a running back after shedding a block by Saints tackle Charles Brown and was consistently active.
As 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley said last week, Smith is “getting better every day.”
“He’s very multidimensional as a pass rusher,” says Staley. “He’s got real long arms that are explosive and naturally strong.”