Smith ready to pass the 'Buck'

Derek Smith will start his third consecutive preseason game at left outside linebacker Friday in Minnesota, then the eighth-year veteran will happily step away from the position where he has toiled all spring and summer.

Smith, you see, is not really a "Buck" - the name the 49ers haven given to the left outside linebacker position in their 4-3 defensive scheme. That's Julian Peterson's position, and Smith has just been keeping it warm this year while Peterson has missed all of team's spring and summer workouts because of contract issues.

But Peterson's back now, having signed his one-year tender offer Wednesday as the team's exclusive franchise player, and he'll take over at his customary position when the 49ers resume practice Sunday after a player's day off Saturday.

That leaves Friday's exhibition against the Vikings as Smith's swan song at the position. He is not exactly sorry to see that happen.

"I'll play one more game at Buck," Smith said. "Then, enough of that."

Smith has done an admirable job learning the position as a contingency plan in case Peterson never made it to camp in time to be ready for the Sept. 12 season opener against Atlanta. Though the team tinkered with other players at Buck that are more suitable to the position - speedy Jamie Winborn, for instance - it would have been Smith taking Peterson's place if it came down to that once the games started counting.

Smith never expected it to come to that.

"From talking to Jamie, I knew that (Peterson) was coming back in the next few days," Smith said. "I knew he was going to be here. I'm just glad he's here."

Smith can say that again, but he doesn't need to. It was obvious to all that he felt a bit uncomfortable in the position - where he couldn't make the best use of his skills - and that he was taking one for the team by making the move. As Smith said, "I can fit in for Buck for a little while, but I'm not really a Buck."

Smith is a "Mike" - the name given to the left inside linebacker (or middle linebacker) in San Francisco's scheme. And nobody in San Francisco history ever has had better production at that position - or any position, for that matter - than Smith did last year.

Smith set a team record with 189 tackles as the San Francisco scheme funneled plays toward him. But Smith's record tally wasn't just a product of the system. He made a lot of plays on his own and finished with career highs in solo tackles (105), assists (84), sacks (3.5) and passes defensed (6).

It seemed ridiculous to move Smith after that tremendous, consistent performance - even if was only temporary. But Smith is back home where he belongs now, and the Niners can go forward with their big plans on defense, which all along had Smith located at the very heart of that unit.

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