SANTA CLARA — Aldon Smith believes he is on the path to being sober for good.
Part of the process for the San Francisco 49ers' All-Pro linebacker to rejoin the team following a five-week stint in rehab included a verbal commitment to the NFL that he would stay out of trouble and keep clean.
“I think any time we could all look into our lives and find something we need to work on,” Smith said Tuesday, seemingly relaxed. “I've taken my time and I've done that.”
A clean-cut Smith — hair trimmed from his previous long, curly cut — returned to the 49ers' locker room after his long absence and five missed games to cheers from teammates who chanted his first name. Everybody knows what he means to this franchise and defense — and the 49ers are hopeful he is as healthy as he looks and ready to return to the field as soon as Sunday's home game with Carolina.
“I'm getting there. Every day's just a step closer to getting to where I want to be,” Smith said at his locker after practice. “I've gotten a lot of support, from my family, friends, organization, teammates and everything. And it really says a lot that people care about me outside the field and they care about me as a person.”
Smith had been on an indefinite paid leave of absence before being activated to the 53-man roster Thursday, two days after he turned himself in to Santa Clara County authorities on weapons charges.
He met last Wednesday with team officials.
The fearsome pass-rusher is in shape despite a couple of extra pounds gained during his stint at an in-patient treatment center for substance abuse. He was at a facility outside California, he said, while declining to offer further details. He said he returned to the Bay Area on Oct. 28 after entering rehab in late September — and he was away for his 24th birthday Sept. 25.