Okung embraces challenge of facing 49ers’ Smith

Jan 16, 2014, 11:16 AM | Updated: Jan 18, 2014, 2:53 pm

By Brady Henderson

The Seahawks might be the slight favorites in the NFC title game, but it’s the 49ers who come to Seattle wearing last year’s conference championship belt.

“I think people say it all the time,” left tackle Russell Okung said, “if you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”

49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith set the NFL record for most sacks over a player’s first two seasons with 33.5, then added 8.5 in 11 games during the 2013 regular season. (AP)

And to beat the 49ers Sunday at CenturyLink Field, Okung will have to hold his own against one of the best pass rushers in the league.

Aldon Smith set an NFL record with 33.5 sacks over his first two seasons. The third-year outside linebacker had 8.5 sacks this season, which is a respectable total but one that looks even better when taking into account the five games he missed while receiving treatment for substance abuse.

“He’s deceptively fast and deceptively quick as well, has a great power game to him and he’s a competitor,” Okung told 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Brock and Danny” on Thursday. “I’d be lying to myself if I wasn’t looking forward to the matchup this week.”

The defenses the Seahawks have faced over the last fives games might have something to do with Seattle’s struggles in the passing game. The opponent on Sunday won’t make it any easier.

More coverage previewing Sunday’s NFC title game between the Seahawks and 49ers.

“The Pete Carroll Show” | Blue 42 | Cold Hard Facts
O’Neil: Errors may decide NFC championship
O’Neil: Stopping the 49ers starts with Frank Gore
Henderson: Taking a closer look at the 49ers
O’Neil: How the rivalry became so heated | Timeline
Moore: Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh deny animosity
Moore: Crowd isn’t enough for Hawks to beat 49ers
Henderson: ‘No better matchup,’ Pete Carroll says

Smith isn’t the only star on a front seven that also includes Pro Bowlers Justin Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks. But with a 6-foot-4 and 265-pound frame, extraordinarily long arms and plenty of speed, he might be the most dangerous.

Okung would know. Smith has four sacks in six games against Seattle since entering the league as the seventh overall pick in 2011, but those two go back to their days in the Big 12. Smith had 11.5 sacks a freshman at Missouri in 2009, which was Okung’s final season at Oklahoma State.

“You could definitely see he had talent,” Okung said.

Four years later, the two will square off once again in an individual matchup that could go a long way toward determining which team advances to the Super Bowl.

“Does it get any better than it’s going to get this Sunday?” Okung said. “A divisional opponent, this Sunday, for the marbles. Let’s go.”

Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.

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