Two. That’s the number of sacks Justin Smith had last season, and it’s causing a lot of 49ers fans to reach for the Malox. Why, when the New York Giants clearly showed the importance of pocket pressure in the Super Bowl, would the 49ers dump a wheelbarrow load of money on a guy with only two sacks? The answer is that the 49ers don’t expect a lot of sacks from Justin Smith. The guy who played his position last season, Marques Douglas, had three sacks, and I get the impression the 49ers would be tickled if Smith doubled that total in 2008. Smith never has had double-digit sack numbers. The most he had – 8 ½ -- came during his rookie season. In San Francisco, he’ll be asked to stop the run, to knife in and make tackles in the backfield and to occupy blockers so that Patrick Willis continues to make plays. He’ll also slide inside to defensive tackle on third and long. And it seems that Smith is perfectly suited for that role. That’s why you have to consider Smith a very good addition – he’s an excellent fit for what the 49ers are looking for at that position.
But the worrywarts out there do have a point. Even after hauling in the top defensive end on the market, the 49ers still lack a legitimate pass-rush threat. In the 49ers’ scheme, the pass rush should come from the outside linebackers. However, one starter, Manny Lawson, is coming back from an ACL tear and has yet to show he can be an effective pass rusher. On the other side, you have Tully Banta-Cain – four sacks last year – two unproven players, Parys Haralson and Jay Moore, as well as Roderick Green. Among them, Green may be the best pass pure pass rusher, and yet he was cut twice in the last two years.
Late last week, GM Scot McCloughan said the team’s goal in free agency was to fill out the roster so that the 49ers could feel comfortable drafting the best player available in April. They’ve done a good job filling holes so far, but there’s still a moon crater at pass-rush linebacker. The team has shown no interest in Tennessee DE Travis LaBoy, whom some teams want to make a 3-4 linebacker. Another candidate, Bobby McCray, has a deal with the Saints. The Cardinals’ Calvin Pace is asking for too much money. One intriguing name (it intrigues me anyway) is Miami’s Jason Taylor. He had 11 sacks last season and he’d be an excellent mentor for Lawson. Sure, he’ll be 34 when the season starts, but he’s a Hall-of-Fame type player who is younger than Larry Allen was when the 49ers acquired him in 2006. The problem is that Taylor is under contract with the Dolphins. And a team, like the 49ers, that wants to build through the draft would be very reluctant to give up the draft picks to land him.
-- Matt Barrows