By Jerrell Richardson
Last week, after being released from a substance abuse treatment facility, Aldon Smith met face to face with Coach Jim Harbaugh. Shortly after that, San Francisco reactivated their talented outside linebacker. So the question on everyone’s mind is when will Smith be back on the field harassing opposing quarterbacks? The answer is very soon.
The problem with setting an exact timeline for Smith’s return is that there are things outside of the team’s control (legal and NFL) that will ultimately determine when he plays in his next game. However, from the 49ers standpoint, it’s a no brainer. Before his being activated, the team said that they would need to see progress from Smith, but what they really meant was that they are going to put him on the field as soon as possible. While some will say that the team is doing this with their best interest in mind, and there is no argument there, in this instance, the best interest of both the team and the player go hand in hand. Therefore if the courts and league determine that a hefty fine should be the extent of his punishment, than it should not be on the 49ers to keep Smith off the field. Best case scenario for the team and Smith is that his pocketbook takes a big hit and he plays this Sunday against Carolina.
Best For The Team Is Best for Aldon
There is no question that the team needs and wants Aldon Smith back. Despite in playing in only three games this season, he leads the team in sacks, and his return will have a positive trickle down effect on the entire defense, particularly against the pass. His fellow down linemen will see far less double teams and chip blocks, allowing them an easier path to the quarterback, and a secondary that has played outstanding so far this season, will be aided by a quarterback who will no longer have the luxury of standing comfortably in the pocket. Smith is arguably the team’s best defensive player, and without question will make them a more formidable group.
Is He Ready?
After being away from football for over a month, the question of rust and condition come to mind, but neither are major concerns, as even an out of shape, rusty Aldon Smith is the best pass rusher on the team. In terms of his conditioning, he understandably would have some work to do, but he can still make an impact in spurts, which is how the game of football flows. While he may not be ready to resume his normal workload, he can at least come in on obvious passing plays as he gets back into shape.
While there is more to his job than waiting for the snap and trying to get past the offensive lineman, it’s not as though Aldon Smith plays a position where he needs to get his timing right with his teammates. In fact, after a few practices, he should be able to shake off any lingering rust, and will be the same elite pass rusher he was to start the season.
While you can question the root of the 49ers concerns, there is no denying that they are going to do everything in their power to help out their troubled star. The 49ers, along with Smith have agreed to some off field rules and regulations to ensure that he is not falling back into any old habits, and the biggest change he will see is the attention paid to him by those around him. While nobody in his personal life seemed to answer his previous calls for help, he now has an entire organization helping him. Smith’s teammate, Alex Boone has fought the same demons and will be an invaluable aid in helping Smith through the tough times that lie ahead of him. So while their intentions may be a little clouded, it can’t be ignored that the locker room and this team is where Smith will receive the most support and help as he faces a tough uphill climb.
A Second Chance
Aldon Smith has paid for his mistakes. It was his decision to go into rehab, has completed the program and is now waiting for the courts to rule on his pending legal issues including felony weapons charges and a separate DUI incident. Once the courts make their decision it’s likely for the league to make their ruling, and that should be the end of his punishment. He is a professional football player, and simply wants to get back to work. When facing any tough times in their lives, athletes often times can find solace on the field of play, even when everything else around them is in chaos. To take a player that asked for help, and who is at a crossroads in his life, and take away not the one thing he has known his whole life, but the only group of people around him that need him as well is too harsh. If the goal is to help Aldon Smith turn his life around, suspending him is not the answer, it’s showing him that everyone is entitled a second chance.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.