SANTA CLARA, CALIF.
Aldon Smith hardly has a free moment to stop at his locker, much less give thought to any intriguing matchups or scenarios as he chases Michael Strahan’s single-season NFL sacks record.
Yet, come Sunday at Candlestick Park, it won’t be the injured Jake Long lining up at left tackle for the Miami Dolphins against the 49ers defensive menace but rather rookie replacement Jonathan Martin. He is a former Stanford player plenty familiar to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and the rest of the staff — and the young offensive lineman suddenly faces the daunting challenge of slowing down the NFL’s sacks leader.
“I’ve just got to take advantage of the opportunity,” Smith said.
Smith has 17 1/2 sacks, already tying Fred Dean’s franchise-best total set in 1983. Next up: getting the 5 1/2 sacks he needs over the final four games to break Strahan’s mark of 22 1/2 sacks set in 2001 with the New York Giants.
“What does he have, 17 1/2 sacks?” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “In 12 games, that’s quite a pace he’s on. He’s kind of got a knack for getting to the quarterback and sniffing things out. He’s a good rusher when the quarterbacks drop back, he does a good job containing when the quarterbacks try to bootleg his way, he does a good job hustling and chasing down quarterbacks when they’re maybe extending a play.
The 6-foot-4, 258-pound Smith has long arms, a quick burst of speed off the snap and a relentless approach to pass rushing that Philbin described as “some kind of natural wiggle in him as a pass rusher.”