Aldon Smith becomes sack-happy freshman for Mizzou

Nov 5, 2009 - 9:51 AM COLUMBIA, Mo.(AP) -- The Big 12 has plenty of elite defensive linemen - Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick and Texas' Sergio Kindle to name a few.

It may be time to add Missouri freshman Aldon Smith to the list.

Smith's three sacks of Colorado's Tyler Hansen in the Tigers' 36-17 win last week gave the Raytown, Mo., native eight for the season - the most in the nation for a freshman and just three shy of Justin Smith's - no relation- single-season Missouri record.

Smith has four regular-season games remaining to try and get the record, starting Saturday when the Tigers (5-3, 1-3 Big 12) host Baylor (3-5, 0-4).

He also leads all freshmen with 13 tackles for a loss. He's third overall among Big 12 defensive linemen with 43 tackles, trailing only Crick and Suh.

Those are impressive numbers for a player who began the season second on the depth chart at defensive end. It wasn't long before he moved into the starting role.

Teammates and coaches have been impressed.

"He's one of the best players around that I've seen at Mizzou," senior linebacker and captain Sean Weatherspoon said. "He doesn't know how good he can be, but he'll find out soon that the sky's the limit."

Smith's effort has drawn high praise from coach Gary Pinkel, who compared Smith's ability to adapt to those of two standout offensive players from the recent past.

"He could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and end up where the ball was supposed to be, somehow, someway," Pinkel said. "Brad Smith and J-Mac (Jeremy Maclin) could do that."

Even in the Tigers' 41-7 loss to Texas, Smith managed to turn heads with 11 tackles, four for a loss, and two sacks.

At 6-5 and 255 pounds, Smith is the tallest player on the Missouri defense and his unique athleticism makes him a menace for opposing offensive lines.

"He's very physically gifted," defensive coordinator Dave Steckel said. "He can run, he's strong, he can change direction. He's the whole package."

Smith has also developed a nose for the big play.

"Earlier in the season I was kind of relying on my athleticism but now I'm actually starting to understand the game a little bit better and starting to have a feel for it," he said. "I've just been watching a lot more film and focusing a lot more on technique."

Coaches have taken note of Smith's strong work ethic.

"All of our players are very hard working," Steckel said. "I think that's why Aldon is growing and maturing as a player, because he's working hard, taking coaching, he's growing each day as he gets better."

With all the hype beginning to surround him, Pinkel spoke to the importance of keeping Smith levelheaded and ready to play each and every week.

"What I always tell players, kids that are starting to get that notoriety that they could be really good is to immerse themselves in the team," he said. "When you immerse yourself in your team, you're constantly doing things for the team, getting better for the team, and it keeps you grounded."

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