Pats took close look at 49ers' Smith

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As the Patriots prepare for Sunday's game against the 49ers and get familiar with San Francisco's personnel, perhaps coach Bill Belichick and his staff will revisit notes from their Gillette Stadium visit with Aldon Smith prior to the 2011 draft.

NFL teams are limited to 30 pre-draft visits with out-of-town prospects, and the Patriots were intrigued enough with Smith -- who entered the NFL after his red-shirt sophomore year at Missouri -- to bring him to town.

Smith, who leads the NFL with 19.5 sacks and set the 49ers' franchise record last week, returns to Gillette on Sunday.

"It was a good experience. There is a lot of history there, them being Super Bowl champions," Smith said Wednesday of the visit. "The coaching staff does a great job of teaching their players. It's really a well-built organization and they're doing things right."

Turns out the Patriots never had the chance to select Smith (6-4, 258), as the 49ers pounced with the No. 7 overall pick and have received some remarkable early returns. New England picked left tackle Nate Solder at No. 17, and are obviously happy with the way that pick turned out as well.

There likely will be times Sunday when Solder and Smith match up, which is one of many intriguing personnel battles in a game between two of the NFL's top teams.