July 01, 2011

There's only so much Aldon Smith can do. So many bench presses, so many wind sprints, so many conditioning drills. Because of the lockout, the 49ers">49ers first-round pick is, in a way, stuck. He moved to San Francisco, and he's training with his future teammates. He's known for two months what lies ahead -- a move from defensive end to linebacker -- but making that move is a process that has barely begun.

Not long after Jim Harbaugh's 49ers selected Smith as the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft, the former Missouri defensive end learned about his impending position switch. Although lockout rules prevent him from working with his future linebackers coach Jim Leavitt, the move has long been on Smith's mind.

"The way I look at it, as far as making that transition, really it's just about standing up on two feet instead of me being down in a three-point stance," Smith said.

He's reduced the move to simple mechanics, and for the 2009 freshman first-team All American, it may be almost that simple. Smith said he has no reason to doubt that he can make the transition -- whenever he finally gets to make it.

At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, Smith cuts an imposing figure. His seven-foot wingspan and 4.74 40 made him a top NFL prospect, despite missing three games in 2010 with a broken leg. When he returned for Missouri's 36-27 upset of Oklahoma, he was far from recovered but managed a 58-yard interception return. Even that wasn't enough, though. After the game, he expressed disappointment that he hadn't gotten into the end zone.

Although the leg injury cast doubts about Smith's health, that's not how he sees it. He doesn't think many people realize his full potential, and the move to outside linebacker will most likely make past criticism of Smith's too-high positioning in a three-point stance irrelevant.

"The sky's the limit for me, as long as I keep working hard," Smith said. "I just have to take advantage of the resources around me."

Right now, those resources are limited. Instead of a coach, he has Justin Smith, the 49ers' veteran defensive tackle who also attended the University of Missouri. Instead of a playbook, he has row after row of bleachers to run up and down. Instead of a contract, he has speeches from Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith at the annual rookie symposium. It's not the average rookie experience.

Justin Smith, who has become a sort of unofficial leader of the team's workouts at San Jose State, reached out to Aldon Smith when he arrived in San Francisco this spring. Although the rookie said that being without a coaching staff has been difficult, the 49ers' structured conditioning sessions have been a distraction from the lockout and the issues it raises.

Distraction was impossible, though, for Smith and the 154 other rookies who attended this week's symposium in Florida. The event, which included discussions about finances and business, was a far cry from the sweat-soaked training sessions that have dominated Smith's summer. He called the experience "informative," but said that he was happy to return to training.

For all the changes that he's faced in recent months -- leaving his comfortable college existence, moving halfway across the country, beginning to learn a new position -- Smith seems unfazed. It's just a move, it's just adapting to a two-point stance. For Smith, it's still just football.

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