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How much will the 49ers miss Aldon Smith?

49ers Aldon Smith

SMITH

Entering the season with a revamped secondary and questions around the return of All-World linebacker NaVorro Bowman, the San Francisco 49ers may play the 2014 without another key cog in their elite defense, elite pass rusher Aldon Smith. In the latest in the line of off-the-field issues, Smith was arrested at LAX this past week in a bizarre case that involved Smith declaring that he had a bomb with him. In the past couple of seasons Smith was charged with multiple DUI’s and completed rehabilitation for issues with alcohol. Through all of his off-the-field issues the 49ers have supported Smith, but according to the San Jose Mercury News that may be coming to an end. According to Tim Kawakami its likely Smith sits out the entire 2014 season. Beyond potential team disciplinary issues it’s possible that the NFL suspends Smith for an extended period of time, if charges are pressed against him.

Smith’s legal issues are the latest in a handful of off-the-field incidents the 49ers are dealing with this season. Chris Culliver, an important part of the 49ers revamped secondary, will soon be charged for a recent hit and run incident. The 49ers are likely to hold onto Culliver, who will play a major role for the team due to the loss of multiple cornerbacks in free agency. This past week quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s name came up in relation to a “suspicious incident” that Miami police are still investigating. It’s unknown whether or not Kaepernick will be charged with anything, but any potential drama around Kaepernick will be yet another distraction for the franchise. It’s been an eventful offseason, beginning with rumors that the team actually looked to trade Head Coach Jim Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns. The Harbaugh story was followed by a tough free agency period where more of the 49ers impressive defensive depth was picked apart by NFL free agency.

Aldon Smith

ALDON SMITH

The potential loss of Smith may be a major blow to the 49ers pass rush. Smith forms a tremendous combination with defensive end Justin Smith. Couple the loss of Aldon Smith with the devastating knee injury that NaVorro Bowman is returning from and the 49ers linebacker corps is clearly diminished. Bowman is a unique player, an every down player, who will likely be replaced by a handful of players as well as changes in scheme. With the 49ers secondary rebuilding, including new safety Antoine Bethea, a solid pass rush will be important. Corey Lemonair, who showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, is the logical replacement for Smith. San Francisco also has a massive number of draft picks in the upcoming NFL draft, with ample opportunity to pick up potential pass rush talent.

Whether or not they can find a player who can average a sack a game, like Smith, is another story. In an offseason where they were forced to replace exiting talent at several positions, the distraction of another Smith incident is exactly what the 49ers didn’t need. With Seattle coming off of a Super Bowl title the 49ers will need their typical elite defense. If they are unable to make up for their losses on the defensive side of the football they could be looking at another wild card run next season. By Chris Cabrera

Steelers look to avenge last season

Steelers to avenge last season

Steelers to avenge last season

The ending to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2011 season was tragic at best. The Steelers were one of the three favorites to win the AFC title going into the 2011 season having come off a defeat by the Packers in Super Bowl XLV. The team played well throughout the season battling the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC North’s top spot. However, Week 14 was the beginning of the end for the Steelers’ season. While playing the Cleveland Browns, Ben Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle injury while scrambling out of the pocket. Instead of deciding to heal the ankle Big Ben decided to start the next game against the San Francisco 49ers in order to clinch a playoff birth in Week 15. Roethlisberger was noticeably limping during the game and ultimately had to sit out. Charlie Batch started the next two games for the Steelers, eventually clinching a Wild Card playoff spot. The Steelers were heavily favored in the Wild Card game against the miracle Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow. In shock and amazement to everyone in the world, the Broncos were successful in passing the football against the top defense in football. With a single overtime play of 80 yards, the Steelers were sent packing home and left scratching their head. With the collapse of the 2011 season behind them, what will the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers bring to the table?

The 2012 Steelers will be quite a bit different from the Steelers of the past five years. Due to the new collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players, the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves with salary cap problems during the 2012 offseason. Player casualties from front office decisions were the releasing of veteran Steelers players such as Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith, and Max Starks. An analyst once said that the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have backup players but “starters in waiting” and there has been no other time more important for those “starters in waiting” to play at the same level of standard that the Steelers fans are accustomed to than during the 2012 season. Other veteran Steelers players have restructured their contracts to also help the organization in its salary cap problems.

The historic franchise has done its best in trying to replace its cap casualties by signing back Max Starks, resigning Jerricho Cotchery, and signing Leonard Pope. The Steelers also addressed its offensive line disasters through the draft, using its first two picks in selecting two offensive linemen, David DeCastro and Mike Adams. The Steelers have also drafted several other weapons to develop as “starters in waiting” as is the Steelers way. Electric running back Chris Rainey looks to be a change of pace back on third down situations and the primary kick and punt returner, Sean Spence will be developed into a Steelers future middle linebacker, and Alameda Ta’amu looks to replace nose tackle Casey Hampton in the future.

The Steelers have also dealt with disgruntled wide out Mike Wallace. Mike Wallace has demanded a long term contract with money equivalent to one of the top players in the league. Not giving into the demands of Wallace, the Steelers prepared to play the season without him and rewarded second year standout wide receiver Antonio Brown with a five year contract extension. Wallace and company finally decided to sign the restricted free agent tender offered to him by the Steelers and report to the team with only two weeks away from the start of the 2012 season.

The Steelers have always had one of the best defenses year in and year out. With Dick LeBeau still in command of the defense and some younger players being inserted into the starting roster, it looks like the Steelers will continue its dominant defensive tradition. The offense on the other hand might need some time to adjust to new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s offensive system. It’s no secret that Ben Roethlisberger loved Bruce Arians’ offense the past couple of seasons but with a changing of the guard and Pittsburgh native Haley in command of the offense, the Steelers may struggle early on in the season.
All in all, the Steelers have an elite defense and playmakers on offense. They may struggle for the first month, trying to learn the new personnel changes but they will once again be a heavy favorite in the AFC rivaling the Patriots, Ravens, and Texans for top honors. The first test will be against the same team that sent them home last season, in the same building, however Tim Tebow is no longer running the team, that job now belongs to Peyton Manning. We will see how prepared the Steelers are to redeem its 2011 season right from Week 1.