Should 49ers bank on Aldon Smith returning this season?
Aldon Smith could begin practice on Monday and be available to play as early as Nov. 10 against the Carolina Panthers. (AP)
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When asked last week what the 49ers need to see from Aldon Smith in order for him to return to action this season, general manager Trent Baalke answered, “Progress.”
And 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh used that exact word Wednesday to describe changes in Smith when addressing the question of whether the All-Pro outside linebacker is expected to return to the playing field this season after voluntarily entering treatment for substance abuse in September.
“I think the prudent thing to do is look at it day-to-day and have a goal of having a great day,” Harbaugh said on “Bucher & Towny” on 95.7 The Game. “He’s been taking that approach, really over the last five weeks. And it’s served him well and he’s made quite a bit of progress.”
The 49ers are currently on their bye week with four mandatory days off from practices, beginning Thursday through Sunday. The 49ers have not settled on a rigid plan for Smith. He could begin practice on Monday, and could be available to play as early as Nov. 10 against the Carolina Panthers. The 49ers could ask for a one-week roster exemption to allow Smith to practice for a week before being added to the 53-man roster.
Smith, 24, turned himself into authorities Tuesday night and immediately posted $75,000 bail, a source close to the case told NBC Bay Area. He is now scheduled to appear in court on back-to-back Tuesdays, to face felony weapons charges on Nov. 12 and misdemeanor DUI charges on Nov. 19.
The self-surrendering was part of the arrangement Smith made with Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, NBC Bay Area reported, when he was charged with possession of illegal assault weapons on Oct. 9. Smith took a voluntary leave of absence from the 49ers and entered in-patient treatment on Sept. 23, three days after his arrest on suspicion of DUI.
Smith has missed the past five games – a fact NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said would be taken into account when CSNBayArea.com asked him about Smith over the weekend in London -- when it comes to any possible league discipline. The 49ers are continuing to pay his $98,978 weekly salary, but he is expected to incur an NFL fine of at least two weeks without pay, a source told CSNBayArea.com.
Upon returning to the Bay Area from the game Sunday in London, Harbaugh and others in the 49ers' organization met face-to-face with Smith on Wednesday, he told 95.7 The Game.
“Aldon was in the building,” Harbaugh said. "It was great to see the reaction of others who saw him and Aldon’s reaction of being back here with some of the guys. He looks great, and we’re having a good day.
“I mean that was the object of today, let’s have a great day. I think that’s the way Aldon’s approaching things, each day, too. The goal to have a great day.”
And if Smith has enough great days, he will likely return to his familiar role as one of the key members of the 49ers’ defense. Smith was voted by his teammates as the winner of the Bill Walsh Award last season, which goes to the 49ers’ MVP. Smith has 38 sacks in 35 career games.
And Smith, chosen with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 draft, was off to another outstanding start this season. In fact, he still leads the 49ers with 4.5 sacks despite playing in only three of the team’s eight games.
Baalke said Smith needs to demonstrate progress in order for him to return to the playing field. The 49ers made the controversial decision to play Smith in the Sept. 22 game against the Indianapolis Colts – just two days after his DUI arrest -- because they said it was in Smith's best interest.
“Progress," Baalke said, "and it’s like anything, you’re developing that trust factor again. And we all understand, and that includes Aldon, situations like this have to be in the past. We’re going to work awfully hard to make that happen.”
When asked how the 49ers will measure “progress,” Baalke said a lot of different factors will be considered. Before any football decision is made concerning Smith, the 49ers are likely to have multiple meetings with Smith, as well as input from clinicians at the treatment facility.
“I think there are a lot of layers to looking at the progress,” Baalke said. “It’s using every vehicle you have, no different that what we do in the scouting process when gathering information. There are a lot of layers to it. And you do the best you can to determine the decisions that you need to make for the organization.”