The Aldon Smith who made news Monday when he took a leave of absence to check into rehab after his arrest last week on DUI and marijuana possession charges isn’t the Aldon Smith his former coach and teammates know.
“He had never had problems here,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said during his weekly news conference. “Zero.”
Pinkel said he sent a text message to Smith, a Pro Bowl linebacker for the 49ers and the reigning NFC defensive player of the year, on Monday to offer support.
“We’re here for him,” Pinkel said. “Any player that every played here, we’re here for them.”
Later that night on his Tiger Talk radio show, Pinkel reiterated that support.
“You’re part of a family and you hear these guys talk about that, but that’s forever,” Pinkel said.
Smith’s former teammates remember him as a positive force for the Tigers on and off the field.
“He was a brother,” junior defensive end Kony Ealy said. “He took me in under his wing and showed me everything he knew. It’s probably why I’m half as good as I am now, just kind of mentoring under him and seeing some of the great games that he played while he was here at Mizzou.”
Smith, a Raytown graduate who turns 24 on Wednesday, set a franchise record with 19 1/2 sacks last season and reached 30 career sacks faster than any player in NFL history, breaking Reggie White’s record last season.
The 49ers placed Smith on the reserve/non-football injury list Monday, clearing a spot on the 53-man roster until his return.
He’ll missed San Francisco’s next game Thursday at St. Louis and is expected to be out at least a month, ESPN reported, though Smith will be eligible to rejoin the reigning NFC champions beginning next week.
“I am taking a leave of absence to address my health,” Smith said in a statement released by the team. “I am sorry that I have affected my team, my family and the organization. I will do everything in my power to handle this situation the best way possible. I appreciate the support of the 49ers and our fans.”
Pinkel hopes that Smith can turn his troubles into a positive.
“There’s a lot of pressure on him and he’s got a lot of things going on, but I think this could turn into a real positive,” Pinkel said. “He can get some help and that will help him accomplish all his personal goals and professional goals as he goes. I think it shows a lot of courage for him.”
Smith’s former teammates are confident that he’ll turn his life around.
“It’ll hit him and definitely give him a reality check,” said senior wide receiver Marcus Lucas, a Liberty graduate, “but I think that he’s going to bounce back and that he’s going to do great things.”
Lucas also added, “You never want to see a teammate on the TV for the bad You’ve just got to pray for him and pray for his family. I think that he’ll be all right. You know what kind of guy he is, honestly. He made a couple mistakes, but he’s a great player and I think that he’ll be able to get his head on straight and move on.”
Smith, who had 3 1/2 sacks and 13 tackles in the 49ers’ first three games, also was arrested for DUI in January 2012 in Miami.
Ealy predicts fans will embrace Smith whenever he returns.
“When you go out there and make sacks or when you go out there and make TFLs, everybody’s still going to love him,” said Ealy, who had not spoken with Smith since his arrest last Friday morning in San Jose, Calif. “Everybody messes up and everybody has a few minor mistakes.”