What's the value of spring practices? Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio today said that OTAs and minicamps provide "good work" to multi-year veterans. But for rookies and first-year players, the time spent on the practice field is "invaluable."
Fangio's prime example - Aldon Smith. He noted that Smith didn't have the benefit of spring sessions last year because they were wiped out by the lockout. In addition, Smith is learning the intricacies of outside linebacker this season - figuring out how to play in zone defenses and trying to be as good or better against the run than the man he is replacing in the starting lineup, Parys Haralson.
Last season Smith was in on 489 of San Francisco's 1026 defensive snaps. But Fangio estimated that only 20 or 30 of them were at outside linebacker. The rest came as a defensive end in a four-man front where Smith's assignment was simply to locate the quarterback and bring him to the ground.
Smith, of course, was ultra effective in that role. He set a 49ers rookie record with 14 regular-season sacks and flirted with the NFL record for a rookie. Was there any inclination to keep Smith in a specialist's role considering how effective he was last year?
"No, if it turns out that he doesn't warrant the job with his play then you go back to that," Fangio said. "But I think when you've got a player of his ability, you've got to do anything and everything you can to get him on the field more. At the same time, I was very happy and pleased with what we got out of him last year. That was what I expected."
One of the themes of the questions posed to Fangio today was, how does the 49ers' defense improve upon its 2011 performance? Fangio noted that most of his defensive starters either were young players or were in their mid 20s, which he said means there's no reason not to expect improvement.
A notable exception is defensive end Justin Smith, who turns 33 in September. But Fangio said that Smith works so hard at keeping his body in peak condition that he doesn't see the defensive end slowing down. "I don't see the end for him yet," Fangio said. "And I mean looking forward two or three years. I think he's still here and playing at a high level."
Fangio also was asked if the team can expect to duplicate its gaudy 38 takeaways from 2011. "We hope to match it and surpass it - that's our goal," he said. "They tend to come in bunches at times. But the good thing we did last year was, I don't think we had a game where we had, like, six or seven of them. We kinda had a lot of games where we got two, three, maybe four. So we were fairly consistent. There were only a couple of games where we didn't get any."
The only games in which the 49ers didn't force a single turner were against Detroit (a win) and Baltimore (a loss). they did have a safety against the Lions.
When it comes to newcomer cornerback Perrish Cox, Fangio suggested it's not a question of whether he makes the team but how much he plays. Said Fangio: "He's going to push for playing time if he continues to work like he's done so far."
Cox has been playing both cornerback and nickel back, which Fangio insisted are two different positions. Cox had a very impressive practice on Tuesday, which included an interception and a couple of pass break ups.
Fangio said he didn't know anything about a possible workout for Brian Banks, the ex high school star who was wrongfully incarcerated for five seasons. Banks is taking part in a Seahawks minicamp on a tryout basis this week.
"I don't know anything about that," he said. "That's the first I heard about that. That would be something for Trent (Baalke)."
-- Matt Barrows