NFL Nation: Aldon Smith

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York acknowledged in his Monday news conference that it was his decision to let Ray McDonald play to begin the season with the defensive lineman being investigated for domestic violence.

And it was McDonald's behavior that ultimately got McDonald fired earlier this month when he was the subject of a sexual assault investigation.

"When his first issue came up, he was not charged with anything," York said. "We sat down with Ray and said, 'Ray, whether you were guilty or not, you can't put yourself in these types of positions.' And very shortly after that he did that again. You need to make sure people are accountable. That's up to me.

"We might not win the Super Bowl every year, but we can conduct ourselves with class. And we can conduct ourselves in a way that makes me proud. I'll put that on me."

Off-the-field issues, including 10 arrests over a 32-month period, have dogged the Niners in recent years.

"There were other things that we talked to Ray about and there had been incidents with alcohol," York said. "We need to make sure that we are much better with alcohol on this team. And that was one of the things and the next incident that came up with Ray, I have no idea what happened. But I know Ray put himself in another position and it hurts me to know that Ray, who has been a good kid with us, put himself in that position.

"We've had those conversations with Aldon [Smith]. I personally think Aldon's a pretty good kid. He has things that he needs to overcome. When you look back to letting him play in the Indianapolis game (after getting a DUI last year), that was a very, very tough decision and I said that at that point. It's unprecedented that a player would leave in the middle of a season and go to rehab. But, he's got to continue to work on that. He understands that very clearly. And that's something that we need to hold him accountable for and we need to make sure that we keep him going in the right direction."

Smith's name was mentioned in the search warrant affidavit as drinking alchohol with McDonald and the woman who accused McDonald of sexual assault. Smith denied it.

"I talked to the guys today," York said of the 49ers' players. "I talked about winning with class. I said, 'You guys are responsible for how you act outside of this building. Don't get cut because of something you do off the field. You're the one's that control that.'

"And that needs to come directly from me. And when that slips you see level of accountability slip and that's not acceptable. If you want to blast me for something, by all means blast me for that."

Many observers have put the blame for bringing in less-than high quality players at the feet of general manager Trent Baalke. York was asked if he also looks at his GM to draft and sign high quality players.

"Absolutely, absolutely," York said. "And there are guys that, they might not be 100 percent choirboy, perfect quality players, and the NFL is made up of teams that have mixtures of personalities. You need to find a way to get to the guys that are potentially on the edge, that have the ability to really be good guys. And maybe they didn't have the greatest background, they didn't have the greatest upbringing, but that doesn't mean that they're bad people.

"And that's where you get to the teacher (-type coach) to make sure that you find a way to keep those guys instead of going to the other side, keeping them on the side of the road that fits with our core values."
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Observed in the locker room after the San Francisco 49ers38-35 overtime loss to the San Diego Chargers at Levi’s Stadium:
  • Skuta
    It was silent as a wake in the 49ers’ locker room, players milling about and mumbling to no one in particular after inexplicably blowing a 28-7 halftime lead. The sense of finality to a lost season was evident at the locker of linebacker Dan Skuta, who took pictures with a young boy while holding his jersey and helmet aloft.
  • General manager Trent Baalke appeared in the locker room, patting the shoulders of Skuta, rookie center Marcus Martin, running back Frank Gore and linebacker Aldon Smith, who left the game with a head injury but returned. Baalke asked Smith how he was doing, and Smith said he would be fine.
  • Gore, as always, took the loss especially hard and milled about the locker room longer than usual. He went outside for a while and posed for pictures with Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. And while New York Yankees third baseman/designated hitter Alex Rodriguez was on the sideline pregame, rocking a Gore jersey, he was not in the postgame locker room. Gore played his college ball at Miami, and Rodriguez is from Miami and works out in the Hurricanes’ facilities.

A fresh Aldon Smith rounding into form

November, 23, 2014

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Maybe the San Francisco 49ers are onto something when it comes to keeping their players, especially on defense, fresh late in the season.

While linebacker Aldon Smith sat out the first nine games of the season serving a league-mandated suspension and defensive end Justin Smith did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, the two combined for three of the Niners’ five sacks in their 17-13 victory over Washington on Sunday (defensive end Ray McDonald and linebacker Aaron Lynch had the others).

Now, I’m not advocating getting suspended, but the fact is, Aldon Smith is fresher than his opponents.

“I don’t have as many hits on my body as the guys who have been playing,” Aldon Smith said after the game. “So hopefully that comes into play on Thursday.”

That’s when the Niners play host to the rival Seattle Seahawks and really, the only physical issue with Aldon Smith at the moment is his left middle finger, which he dislocated against Washington.

It did not keep him from doing his job, though, as he harassed Robert Griffin III regularly and made life a living hell for rookie left tackle Morgan Moses.

Aldon Smith’s first sack came on the second play of the game, a 9-yard loss, and his second sack came on Washington’s fourth play of the third quarter, a 7-yard loss.

“Justin Smith is a great player [and] Aldon Smith is a great player and they have many great players on their offense,” Griffin said. “They played well and it just so happened that they played better than we did today.”

Aldon Smith last had a two-sack game on Dec. 15, 2013, at Tampa Bay. In all, he was credited with three tackles against Washington, with four QB hurries.

“Just working, just making plays,” he said. “We do a good job of working together. I got a good push from the guy inside, so I was able to go around and make a tackle. I was able to make a move and then make another one.

“Things are going really good. Everybody’s playing really good ball. It’s just good being back and everybody’s just doing their thing and making plays out there.”
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Aldon Smith may have been essentially shut out on the stat sheet, but the San Francisco 49ers' All-Pro outside linebacker did make his presence felt in Sunday's 16-10 victory over the New York Giants.

In ways that transcends his two quarterback hurries.

Since entering the game in the second quarter, the Giants' third offensive series, Smith basically played the remainder of the game and New York had to account for him, throwing double- and triple-teams at him on occasion.

"I felt good," Smith said. "I started of a little slow and rusty, but as the game went on, I got more comfortable and I was able to go out there and try to just pick up where I left off.

"By the time the third quarter came around, I was feeling good."

Smith, whose 0.98 sacks per game career average entering the game was the best in the NFL since the sack became a stat in 1982, came close to getting Eli Manning a couple of times -- as evidenced by the aforementioned hurries -- but he could not break through.

Still ...

"It was great," said rookie inside linebacker Chris Borland, who led the 49ers with 12 tackles. "He's a premier pass-rusher and a leader on our team.

"I saw [the Giants] chipping him a few times."

Manning threw five interceptions, after coming into the game with six picks on the season. And the way strong safety Antoine Bethea saw it, Smith's presence may have had more than a little something to do with what Borland referred to as Manning having "happy feet" against the 49ers.

Because Smith did pop Manning hard at least once.

"It was big having (No.) 9-9 out there on the edge and just knowing what type of pressure he can get on the quarterback," Bethea said. "As a DB, that is what you want, being able to look at the quarterback and get some good jumps on the ball."

Smith agreed.

"I was able to get back there and put some pressure on the quarterback," he said. "As a result, some of those turned into interceptions and forced bad throws. I'm just glad I was able to get out there and help out."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- While Aldon Smith is active for the San Francisco 49ers for Sunday’s game at the New York Giants, having served his nine-game suspension in full, the outside linebacker is not listed as a starter.

Rather, rookie Aaron Lynch will start for Dan Skuta, who was among the seven inactive players listed by the 49ers.

Also, Quinton Dial will start at nose tackle in the Niners’ base 3-4 defense, as Ian Williams, who has a lower left leg injury, was ruled out on Friday.

The rest of the Niners’ inactives: QB Josh Johnson, WR/KR Bruce Ellington, WR Quinton Patton, CB Tramaine Brock and G/C Dillon Farrell.

Perrish Cox figures to replace Ellington as the punt returner and either Carlos Hyde or Alfonso Smith should return kickoffs.
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- While the season is just getting started for San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith, the year has come to a close for the Niners’ first-round draft pick, defensive back Jimmie Ward.

Smith, whose nine-game suspension “for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse and the league’s Personal Conduct Policy” has now been served in full, was activated off the exempt list Saturday to the active 53-man roster. Ward, who injured his right foot last week at New Orleans but continued to play against the Saints, was placed on season-ending injured reserve in the corresponding roster move.

Ward had already been ruled out of Sunday’s game at the New York Giants with the injury, which occurred to the same foot that required surgery to repair a Jones fracture in March. Ward had 23 tackles and two passes defensed in eight games.

With Ward out, Perrish Cox will likely slide inside to become the 49ers’ nickelback.

It was also thought the 49ers could activate nose tackle Glenn Dorsey off short-term IR, with Ian Williams also ruled out with a left fibula injury. But no such move was made and, with the Giants likely to use three-wideout sets, the Niners should spend most of their time in nickel packages anyway.

The 49ers have until Monday, when his 21-day practice window closes, to either activate Dorsey, who suffered a torn biceps tendon in his left arm in camp, or place him on season-ending IR.

Quinton Dial or Tony Jerod-Eddie should start at nose tackle against the Giants in the Niners’ base 3-4 defense.

49ers vs. Giants preview

November, 14, 2014
When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday Where: MetLife Stadium, Meadowlands, N.J. TV: FOX

The 5-4 San Francisco 49ers travel to New Jersey this weekend to face the 3-6 New York Giants. ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano and ESPN 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez are here with a preview:

Graziano: Paul, I see Aldon Smith is back from his suspension just in time to face the struggling Giants. What do the 49ers expect to be able to get out of Smith in his first game?

Gutierrez: Are we talking realistically or hopefully? For the purposes of this conversation, let’s go with a combo. Look, Smith has been able to work out at the Niners' facility during his nine-game suspension and attend team meetings, but he was banned from team practices and games. So there's no telling what kind of football shape he'll be in.

That being said, his skill set as a pass-rusher is needed badly in Santa Clara. The Niners have just 15 sacks, tied for 24th in the league, and all they need from Smith is for him to pin his ears back and rush Eli Manning. There's not much scheme involved there, really, especially if the other linebackers are coached up. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said a couple of weeks ago that he expected Smith to be full-go and without limitations when he returns. Jim Harbaugh was a little more hesitant. I’d lean toward Fangio on this one.

Do the Giants expect Smith to be back to his sack-happy self, meaning they’d have to go max protect for Manning, and if so, how does that affect what the Giants want to do offensively, particularly running the ball? And what is the latest on Rashad Jennings?

Graziano: Jennings returned to practice Wednesday, and barring a setback they expect him to play Sunday and resume his role as the bell cow in their offense. They're 0-4 without him, averaging 83 rush yards per game as opposed to the 121 they were averaging with him. He's a three-down back who can pick up the blitz and catch the ball out of the backfield as well as pick up those "dirty" yards (as he calls them) on first and second downs.

The Giants' offense will run much better with Jennings back in the lineup, assuming he's fully healthy. And that's a big part of their ability to contain Smith and the 49ers' pass rush -- forcing San Francisco to respect the Giants' ability and determination to run the ball. Leaving their tackles alone to handle Smith would be a bad idea at this point, as they are not playing well. The offensive line is one of many weak spots on this team, and the only time it's looked good was earlier in the season when the Giants were running their up-tempo, run-based offense with all of their weapons. They still won't have Victor Cruz, who's out for the year, but getting Jennings back will help in many ways.

Overall, how different is this 49ers defense from the dominating unit of the past couple of years, and what is the impact of losing Patrick Willis?

Gutierrez: It's a completely different unit. Not only is Willis gone for the season with that chronic injury to his left big toe, but nose tackle Glenn Dorsey is still working his way back after suffering a torn left biceps in camp and NaVorro Bowman is still recuperating from the devastating injury to his left knee from the NFC title game in January. Oh, and Aldon Smith has been out all season serving his nine-game suspension for general malfeasance, though, as you noted above, he's about to make his season debut.

Yet, the defense has not really been the Niners' problem this season; that would be an inconsistent offense that goes from being a pass-happy attack to a power-running attack and back again. Consider: Even with all of the attrition and injuries, the Niners' defense is the No. 2-ranked total defense in the NFL. The loss of Willis would seemingly be a crushing blow to a team with Super Bowl-or-bust aspirations, but it is cushioned with the inspired play of rookie Chris Borland, who has had 18 and 17 tackles in the past two games, and recovered the key fumble in OT Sunday that led to the game-winning field goal at New Orleans. Borland is no Willis, but then again, no one is.

The Giants gave up 350 yards rushing to the Seattle Seahawks last weekend, their most given up on the ground since the Carter administration. Why should the 49ers not run the ball in New Jersey?

Graziano: The only reason would be if they didn't want to win. What the Giants showed Sunday in Seattle was a complete inability to handle Seattle's basic zone-read run game. They bought the play fake every time, and the only time they stuck with the quarterback was when he did hand it off to Marshawn Lynch. If they'd gone into the game intentionally trying to make the wrong play on every zone-read play, they couldn't have done as good a job of it as they actually did. It was a fiasco.

The Giants are without three of their top four cornerbacks, a couple of whom were actually big helps in run support, and they're without middle linebacker Jon Beason. They'll also likely be without weakside linebacker Jacquian Williams this week, as he's struggling to work his way back from a concussion. So they're thin on defense, but the guys who are playing up front -- Jason Pierre-Paul, Robert Ayers, Jameel McClain, Mike Patterson -- have to do a better job of stopping the run than they did last week, or it's going to be ultra-simple to control the clock and beat them.

Part of the success the Seahawks had running the ball was the 107 yards Russell Wilson had on the ground, including 64 on read-option runs. How similar is the 49ers' and Colin Kaepernick's run game to what the Seahawks do?

Gutierrez: Are we talking this season, or last? Because while there is no doubt that the read-option was a huge part of Kaepernick's arrival on the national consciousness, it has been virtually nonexistent as a play call this season. Sure, Kaepernick is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and is on pace to rush for a career-high 530 yards, but his running game has been more threat than design, if that makes sense. It's all part of the Niners' desire to keep him healthy, obviously, and to make him more of a pocket passer. Still, given the way the Seahawks shredded the Giants' run defense, I would be shocked -- shocked! -- if the Niners shied away from pounding the rock with Frank Gore to set up the read-option for Kaepernick.

OK, perhaps trite or maybe even a tired question at this stage of his career, but can you still spell "elite" without "Eli"?

Graziano: I never liked getting into the "elite" game, because I don't think there's more than three or four quarterbacks in the world who truly fit that word; otherwise, what does the word really mean? But Manning is the least of the Giants' problems. He's on pace to throw 30 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions, which the Giants would have signed up for in a heartbeat after he threw 27 interceptions last year. He has thrown only two since Week 2, and he has clearly taken to a new offense designed to lean on the run game and the short, high-percentage passing game and limit turnovers.

The offense has fallen apart around Manning due to the Cruz and Jennings injuries, but he's got a really nice thing going with rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. right now, and he even got Preston Parker into the mix with a big game Sunday. I think the story of the Giants over the next couple of years will be about how well they can rebuild the team around Manning, who's holding up his end of the bargain as steward of the new offense under new coordinator Ben McAdoo.

Good stuff, Paul. I know you have another long flight coming this week, so travel safe and I look forward to seeing you Sunday in my home state.

Why, after so many off-the-field transgressions that resulted in an NFL-mandated nine-game suspension, should you trust Aldon Smith to stay out of trouble?

“Honestly, time will show,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I’m not going to sit here and give you some, whatever, crazy answer. Time will show, you know?”

The San Francisco 49ers are counting on it, especially with the outside linebacker’s suspension ending as inside linebacker Patrick Willis' season ends after being placed on injured reserve with a toe injury.

Smith called his suspension ending “one of the top exciting moments of my life.”

Even if his suspension was never reduced as numerous reports suggested it would be. And while Smith took umbrage with an ESPN report that said the reason for his suspension not being reduced was because he had not finished mandated counseling -- “I did everything that was necessary,” he said -- he was willing to move on.

“It’s not important,” he said. “I’m happy to be here.”

The 49ers, whose 15 sacks rank tied for 24th in the league with the Dallas Cowboys and San Diego Chargers, could use his brand of pass rush.

In 43 career games since entering the NFL as the No. 7 overall draft pick in 2011, Smith has 42 sacks. He figures to pick up where he left off, reclaiming the spot taken by Dan Skuta in his absence with the Niners playing at the New York Giants this weekend.

Smith could work out at the team facility and attend meetings during his suspension but was banned from practicing with the team and from attending games.

Football-wise, he said he spent his free time watching tape and doing some “self-scouting” and “polishing up my own stuff” to prepare for regaining eligibility. Off the field, he said he put in considerable time with local Boys & Girls clubs.

Still, he was aware of the ticking clock.

“You keep hearing your name and you’re like, ‘Oh, man, obviously I’m missed out there,’” he said. “But it just put that much more in my drive when I was preparing, whether if it was my working out or whatever I was doing to mentally be prepared to come back. So it was just something in the back of my head.

“My body feels good and I’m ready to go.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The San Francisco 49ers enter Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams with the inherent advantage of coming off a bye week and a number of players returning to health.

The Rams, meanwhile, head toward that meeting with 13 players on their injury report, eight of whom were listed as non-participants in Wednesday's walk-through. They are also coming off a 34-7 drubbing at Kansas City in the middle of a three-game road stretch.

Needless to say, the 49ers don't need any more advantages, whether real or perceived. So as rumors swirl about the potential early return of 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith from his original nine-game suspension, Rams coach Jeff Fisher made it clear Wednesday that he doesn't expect Smith to be available this week.

More to the point, Fisher believes if the NFL was going to make Smith available this late in the week, it should have done so earlier since the game-planning that his team has already done hasn't accounted for Smith.

"He’s a good football player," Fisher said. "I would expect it to be unlikely this late. I think I would have liked to have known about it earlier in the week from a game-planning standpoint, but we can’t control what happens at the league office. If he’s reinstated and plays, we’re going to have to block him. So we’ll just wait and see."

Smith has two games left on the nine-game suspension he received before the season for violations of the league's personal conduct policy and substance abuse program. The rumor mill has indicated a possible reduction in that suspension based on apparent good behavior.

So far, nothing has come from those rumors and it doesn't appear a reduction is imminent. That doesn't mean it won't happen, as the league has made similar unexpected decisions on such matters before.

Even without Smith, the 49ers sacked Rams quarterback Austin Davis five times in the first meeting on Oct. 13. Adding Smith, who has 42 sacks in 43 regular-season games, would make things tougher on a Rams team that will give rookie Greg Robinson his first start at left tackle Sunday.

"I’ve got a pretty good left tackle out there right now that’s going to get better and better," Fisher said. "So we’ll see."
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh seemed just as perplexed as general manager Trent Baalke by talk that outside linebacker Aldon Smith’s nine-game suspension could be reduced.

“I saw that report, and I don’t know anything about it,” Harbaugh said Monday in his weekly media conference.

ProFootballTalk reported before Sunday night’s 42-17 Niners loss to the Denver Broncos that Smith could return a game or two early. He has already missed seven games and the 49ers are entering their bye week playing playing host to the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 2.

Smith was hit by the league with the suspension, which would keep him out through the team’s Nov. 9 game at the New Orleans Saints, “for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse and the league's Personal Conduct Policy.”

The suspension broke down with four games for violations of the league’substance abuse policy, five games for violations of the Personal Conduct Policy.

Still, Smith has been allowed to work out at the team’s Santa Clara, California, facility as part of his suspension.

Harbaugh was asked if Smith had kept his nose clean and had been fulfilling his promises to the team.

“Very well,” Harbaugh said. “Settling his community service and when he’s around the facility, very well.”

An incredulous Baakle told reporters on press row Sunday night he knew nothing of the report.
San Francisco 49ers All-Pro outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who was hit with a nine-game unpaid suspension by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday, released a statement through the NFL Players Association on Saturday morning.

“I apologize to my teammates, coaches, the entire 49ers organization and 49ers fans for not being able to contribute on the field for the next several weeks,” Smith said in the statement. “Over the last year, I have learned a lot and I’m working hard to grow from my experiences. I want to thank my family and friends, my teammates, my union and the 49ers for supporting me during this process. I will be at work daily to participate in all permitted work activities, and to support my teammates, just as they have supported me.”

Smith is allowed to work out at the team facility as well as attend meetings under the terms of the suspension, which breaks down into four games for violations of the substance abuse policy and five games for violations of the personal conduct policy.

Smith will lose $1.2 million of his $2.34 million salary, per ESPN business analyst Andrew Brandt.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- While there is little doubt a multi-game suspension for San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith is coming from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, it’s arrival date has the team in a state of flux.

But not in disarray.

That’s because the 49ers know it’s coming, even if they don’t know exactly when or for how many games.

“Actually, because you have a feeling that something may happen at this point in the season, everybody’s getting reps now,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Tuesday. “All the guys that may play for him -- (Dan) Skuta, (Corey) Lemonier, (Aaron) Lynch, (Chase) Thomas -- all those guys have been getting a lot of reps. They’re all ready to go.

“It’s more of an issue when it happens in the middle of the season, just thrown at you like it happened last year. Then there’s no time to adjust. You just go.”

Last year, Smith checked himself into rehab following a Week 3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts that dropped the 49ers’ record to 1-2. He was allowed to play in that game after a single-car accident in which alcohol was involved.

With Smith gone, the 49ers went 5-0.

“Guys, Skuta and Corey, stepped up big time for us,” said inside linebacker Patrick Willis. “It’s going to have to be like that again if we’ve got a situation.

“Regardless whether a player is down with injuries or he’s sick or a family cause, someone else has to step in and play just as well. Aldon has some big shoes to fill, but that’s why we’ve got to play team defense.”

Smith, who has numerous off-field transgressions on his docket including the DUI, weapons charges and a bizarre bomb threat at LAX, met with Goodell more than two weeks ago, making the delay in announcing a suspension a mystery of sorts.

Because while the NFL took heat for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice receiving “only”a two-game suspension after knocking out his fiancÚ, rumors have flown that Smith is in line for up to an eight-game suspension.

Late last week, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said he had received no “indication” from the league about a looming suspension for Smith, a fourth-year player who was an All-Pro selection with 19.5 sacks in 2012.
Examining the San Francisco 49ers' roster:


Because of heavy competition elsewhere, the 49ers will likely only carry two quarterbacks. They finished last season that way. The competition will be to see if undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner can take McLeod Bethel-Thompson's spot on the practice squad.


The fact that the 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round and Lattimore is healthy means some tough decisions will have to be made. Hunter is too valuable to let go. That means 2012 second-round pick LaMichael James will have difficulty making the roster.


The 49ers are so much deeper here this year than last. That means they will likely have to keep six receivers. Lloyd may look good and Patton has too much potential to give up on. That means it could be tough for Kassim Osgood to make it even though he is a special teams cog.


If Davis ends his holdout, I can't see the 49ers keeping more than three tight ends because of the glut at receiver. Unless Garrett Celek has a big camp, he may be in trouble. Carrier intrigues the 49ers because of his size and speed.


Assuming Boone ends his holdout, this is a pretty nice group of eight players. It's improved from last year. A solid veteran like Adam Snyder and a promising youngster like Ryan Seymour will have trouble making the team.


This is another power spot. It's deep. Players like Jerod-Eddie and Dial are too valuable to cut. Ramsey has looked good and I have a hunch the 49ers may like him too much to expose him to the waiver wire. That means Demarcus Dobbs could be in trouble.


Most teams carry six linebackers but the 49ers are stacked here, especially with NaVorro Bowman out for about half the season. Because fifth-round pick Lynch is promising he should make the roster. Dan Skuta is an excellent player, but there might not be any room for him. I could see him being one of those later-summer Trent Baalke trade specials because he has value.


This unit is in flux, but I see Johnson making it. Don't be surprised if there is some in-camp jockeying as the 49ers look for the best mix.


Ward, the 49ers' first-round pick, will play nickel cornerback as a rookie, but projects long term as a safety. Ventrone and Spillman should stick because they are great on special teams. Craig Dahl could be in trouble.


This group is set and it's excellent.
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NFL Nation's Bill Williamson examines the three biggest issues facing the San Francisco 49ers heading into training camp.

The holdouts: The 49ers, fresh off three straight trips to the NFC title game and seemingly poised for another long postseason run, have the weathered many storms this offseason.

Yes, there are some issues that still linger. The 49ers do not know if tight end Vernon Davis and/or guard Alex Boone will continue their holdouts into training camp.

Both players stayed away from voluntary workouts, and then became official holdouts when they did not report to mandatory minicamp last month.

Both Davis and Boone want a new deal. There are indications Boone will stay away until he gets a new contract. Davis has wavered, but he could also miss a chunk of camp.

Both players are key to the offense and would be missed. The 49ers would have to rely on youth at both spots if the holdouts linger. Vance McDonald would play for Davis and Joe Looney would play for Boone. Neither player is the caliber of the player they’d replace.

Aldon Smith: The 49ers head to training camp not completely sure of the future of the standout pass-rusher. The 49ers are set to start training camp next Wednesday. Two days later, Smith is set to be sentenced for pleading no contest to three felony gun charges. He could face some jail time.

He could also be facing an NFL suspension. If Smith is out, the 49ers will need to find some more pass-rush help, and that’s what training camp will be for. Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier helped the 49ers go 5-0 last season when Smith was in a treatment center. The team also drafted Aaron Lynch in the fifth round. If these players show a pass-rush burst in camp, that will make the 49ers feel better about the prospect of playing a long chunk without Smith.

New firepower: The 49ers have big potential on offense. Training camp and the preseason will be a time for the unit to gel and figure out the best approach to use all of the talent. The receiving crew is beefed up with addition of Stevie Johnson, through a trade with Buffalo, veteran Brandon Lloyd and fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington.

The depth of this season’s receiving group is light years ahead of last year’s unit. The thought of Johnson being the No. 3 receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree is silly. Ellington, a South Carolina product, gives the 49ers an element they missed last season -- a burner who can take the top of the defense.

At running back -- the heart of the 49ers’ offense is still the ground attack -- Frank Gore will have second-round pick Carlos Hyde and Marcus Lattimore, who appears to be healthy after missing last season while recovering from a 2012 torn ACL.

Hyde has looked great as a runner and receiver in the offseason. The second-round pick from Ohio State has a chance to make a big impact.

All of these new weapons of course, should help the overall game of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is entering his second full season as a starter.

The 49ers have big capabilities on offense, but the real work begins now.
Aldon Smith avoided charges for allegedly making a fake bomb threat at LAX in April.

However, he must learn from the incident. The San Francisco 49ers’ star linebacker has to realize that he has to do the right thing every day and his actions are going to be closely watched.

Smith put himself in this situation by having several off-field issues since entering the NFL three years ago.

In truth, even if misdemeanor charges were filed in Los Angeles, Smith would still have much bigger issues to contend with. But at least they are being addressed, and he does have a chance to soon get a clean slate. He will be sentenced July 25 for pleading no contest to three felony gun charges. He could face jail time. The NFL could also suspend him, as well.

However, those issues occurred before Smith took steps last September to get his life in order. He voluntarily entered a substance abuse treatment center and missed five games. The team was supportive and positive about Smith when he rejoined the team in late October and into the offseason. In October in London, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the fact Smith was seeking treatment could help him avoid or get a lesser suspension.

The landscape changed with the incident at LAX. The 49ers immediately put out a release stating they were “disappointed.” The team seriously considered not giving Smith his 2015 option despite it being a no-brainer business decision. Privately, people within the team and the league were furious that Smith was in the news again for negative reasons.

As part of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office’s decision not to file charges, they will have a hearing later this month with Smith. The goal of the hearing will be to teach Smith to avoid such situations in the future.

That is the ultimate lesson here: Smith has to avoid putting himself in bad situations.

The 49ers want him to succeed off the field, and they continue to support him. But if another situation arises, that might no longer be the case. As this review closes, Smith must make sure it’s the final bad situation he is involved in.