What's ahead for Aldon Smith, Robert Quinn

Cameron Wake and Elvis Dumervil have gone where young NFC West pass-rushers Aldon Smith and Robert Quinn hope to venture.

Both Wake and Dumervil upped their first-year sack totals considerably after going from situational roles to the starting lineup.

Wake, the Miami Dolphins' Pro Bowl pass-rusher, went from 5.5 sacks in 2009, when he started only one game, to 14 sacks in 2010, when he started 16.

Dumervil, also a Pro Bowl pass-rusher, went from 8.5 sacks in 13 games (no starts) as a rookie in 2006 to 12.5 sacks in 16 starts the next season.

It'll be tougher for Smith to improve dramatically upon his already impressive 14-sack total as a rookie situational player for the San Francisco 49ers last season.

Quinn has more room for improvement after collecting five sacks in no starts for the St. Louis Rams. Both played around 50 percent of their teams' defensive snaps in 2011. Both project as starters this season.

"Who I’m looking forward to watching this year is Robert Quinn," Rams running back Steven Jackson told reporters during the team's ongoing minicamp. "I think he’s a natural pass-rusher. I think working on the opposite side of Chris Long, and the coaching that he’s receiving right now, I’m really looking forward for him to have a breakout season. If there’s anyone I’d tell our fans to look for, it’d be Robert."

Smith's teammate, defensive end Ray McDonald, said he thought Smith could reach the 20-sack level with additional chances. This seemed optimistic, I thought, but McDonald's own experience supported his thinking. McDonald became a far more dynamic player for the 49ers after the team made him its starter.

"Fourteen can turn into 20," McDonald said during the 49ers' ongoing minicamp. "When you’re just a situational player, you’re coming off the bench kind of cold and you have to warm back up. When you’re always out there, you are always warm. You can set your moves up more.

"It was the same thing for me, just coming off the bench and starting off cold. You don’t really get into your rhythm until the third or fourth quarter."

Smith did have 12 of his 14 sacks in second halves, including nine in fourth quarters. He had no first-quarter sacks. If McDonald's theory is correct, Smith could collect more sacks early in games while remaining at least as productive later.

The sacks Wake collected as a rookie were distributed more evenly. Dumervil actually had a higher percentage of sacks in first halves as a rookie.

Quinn had three of his five sacks in second quarters last season.