All-Pro pass rushers are rare, and San Francisco’s No. 99 is part of that breed.
On Dec. 19, 2011 before a national audience on Monday Night Football, 49ers rookie outside linebacker Aldon Smith sacked Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger 2-1/2 times prompting commentator Jon Gruden to say:
“Folks, Aldon Smith is going to the Hall of Fame if this goes on much longer.”
Since the 49ers drafted him in the first-round in 2011, Smith has recorded 37 sacks in 34 games earning the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, and the team’s MVP award.
An outstanding resume that, if continued, would assure him a bust in Canton.
But the soon-to-be 24-year-old may never get there if he continues screwing up off the field.
Smith was arrested for suspected DUI and marijuana possession around 7 a.m. Friday after police said he crashed his truck into a tree in San Jose.
Yes, at the same time some of his teammates were checking into the Santa Clara practice facility, Smith was taking a breathalyzer test.
Smith was uninjured, posted bail and showed up at practice where a terse head coach Jim Harbaugh said he expects Smith to play on Sunday against the Colts.
Harbaugh said there would be consequences for Smith’s actions, but deflected the rest of the media’s Smith-related questions:
“Like I said, I really don’t want to dive into any more of the details about it. I understand that you want to continue to plow the ground. I feel like the ground’s been plowed for now.”
Tight-lipping aside, this latest incident builds on Smith’s troubling past that includes a previous DUI arrest and car accident. A house party Smith hosted also spiraled into mayhem: He was stabbed and fired a weapon, and two others were shot.
Veterans like Vernon Davis and Carlos Rogers can only tell Smith so much. The jheri-curled pass rusher has to grow up and realize he’s heading down the same path as another 49ers’ outside linebacker who wore No. 99: Tim Harris.
Harris earned a Super Bowl ring and tallied 26 sacks in two stints over four seasons with the 49ers (’91 to ’92, ’94 to ’95). Harris had been an All-Pro with the Packers and was every bit as feared on the gridiron as Smith is today, yet his marijuana use, DUI’s, domestic disputes and irresponsibility forced him out of Green Bay and later Philadelphia.
Fact: Harris, Smith and DeMarcus Ware are tied for 10th on the NFL single-season sacks leaders list at 19-1/2 each.
No joke, this guy could have been the all-time sacks leader and a Hall of Famer had he stayed out of trouble. Instead he’s ranked 53rd (81 sacks) and a topic in the “what could have been” talk.
Prior to the start of the ’95 season, Harris received a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Then-49ers vice president Dwight Clark told the San Francisco Chronicle:
“I guess it’s a concern, but it doesn’t seem to affect his play. He plays hard, he practices hard. He’s a good team guy, great in the locker room. (Coach) George (Seifert) is very interested in getting him back. I guess it’s a concern because when it gets to a certain point you don’t have him anymore. … Maybe for pass rushers you overlook some things.”
Could Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke be thinking the same thing concerning any possible suspension of Smith?
It can’t be far from it. If healthy and available, he’s playing. He’s the NFL’s best pass rusher — a title Harris once held.
In June, Smith spoke to NFL.com about his pursuit this year of Michael Straham’s 22.5 single-season sacks record:
“Hopefully, I should be able to trump that record and keep going.”
Let’s just hope he sacks his off-field issues first with the 49ers help.