San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith returned to practice this week after a stay in substance abuse treatment following an arrest in September for driving under the influence.
“It’s been a process since I left,” Smith said in front of his locker stall, via the team’s website. “I’m getting there. Every day is a step closer to where I want to be.
“I’ve gotten a lot of support, from my family, friends, the organization, teammates and everything. It really says a lot that people care about me outside the field, that they care about me as a person… We could all look into our lives and find something that we need to work on. I’ve taken my time and I’ve done that.”
Despite missing the team’s current five-game winning streak, Smith still leads the team in sacks with 4.5.
“Of course I didn’t want to be away from the sport I love, but it was good for me to get my mind together and work, to get to the positive spot I want to be at it,” Smith said.
The third-year pro said it was difficult to leave the team but needed to in order to restore a balance to his life.
“I’ve grown a lot and I’m still growing,” Smith said. “I came into the league on the young side of things, and I’ve just taken every free chance I’ve gotten to get better and grow.
“Being away from my teammates and the guys here in the locker room was difficult, but it worked out. I was able to get away and clear my head.”
Defensive co-captain Patrick Willis said he and the rest of the players in the locker room will continue to help and support Smith.
“I care about him as a person,” he said. “He’s a good guy. I want any of my teammates to know, whether it’s a good time or a bad time, I’m always available to talk and chat and be there for you the best way I can.”
“The most important thing he can do is keep a tight circle and let him know we’re here for him and if he wants to talk he can come to us,” Willis added.
Smith could play on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
“It’s crossing my mind,” he said of the prospect of playing. “I’m taking it one day at a time, getting back here being around the guys.”