Niners' Aldon Smith Appears Ready for a Rebound

His return to form as an elite pass rusher could provide spark to a new-look defense in 2015

This NFL draft is deep with pass rushers.

Players such as Dante Fowler of Florida, Vic Beasley of Clemson and Shane Ray of Missouri should give any team a boost with their ability to rush the passer from the edge, either as 4-3 defensive ends or outside linebackers in the 3-4.

And, headed into Thursday’s draft, the 49ers certainly know they need more help rushing the passer.

The 49ers had just 36 sacks in 2014, tied for 21st in the NFL.

But the Niners may not have to dip into the draft to get a premier pass rusher. They may be able to simply watch Aldon Smith regain his form.

The outside linebacker, suspended for the first nine games of 2014, was not much of a factor for San Francisco last season after being a force his first three seasons when he had 42 sacks – including 19½ in 2012 when he was first-team All-Pro.

In 2014, Smith had just two sacks in seven games.

But as the 49ers prepare to begin a veteran minicamp Tuesday, Smith – in the final year of his contract – appears to be ready to again be one of the NFL’s best pass rushers.

General manager Trent Baalke recently told reporters that Smith has been with the team all offseason, taking part in all activities and working hard. And, as Paul Gutierrez of noted, Smith has an incentive-laden deal for 2015 that will pay him an additional $2 million if he gets at least eight sacks or plays more than 50 percent of the team’s defensive plays.

In fact Smith has been described by Baalke as developing into a team leader now – something not said in the past.

“He’s got a great look in his eye,” Baalke said. “He’s doing well. … For anybody that’s been in a situation like Aldon’s been in, every day is a process. But he’s doing exceptionally well and he’s probably in as good a shape as he’s been in a long time.”

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