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 17½ sacks, already tying Fred Dean’s franchise-best total set in 1983. Next up: getting the 5½ sacks he needs over the final four games to break Strahan’s mark of 22½ sacks set in 2001 with the New York Giants.
“What does he have, 17½ 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.”
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.”
“He’s chasing history, and he’s going to keep doing what he does to make the plays and help the team win,” said defensive mate Justin Smith, who has at least a half sack in each of his last three games.
Last week, Aldon Smith’s sack of Sam Bradford late in the first half at St. Louis gave him an NFL-best 31½ in his first two seasons, a half-sack better than Reggie White’s previous record in 1985-86. While Smith has publicly said he wants to be Defensive Player of the Year and top in sacks, he is more concerned with doing his part to put San Francisco in the best position heading to the playoffs next month.
“We’ll talk about it when it matters,” Smith said.