Sometimes, learning a lesson can be painful.
For San Francisco 49ers’ second-year linebacker Aldon Smith this offseason, the pain was both literal and figurative.
When Smith reported to Niners training camp in Santa Clara and participated in his first practice Friday, he talked to reporters for the first time about the incident in which he was stabbed at a party at his own home in June.
Though his injuries weren’t severe and he’s fully recovered and ready to get going, the incident cast doubts over Smith’s off-field decision-making abilities and judgment, especially considering Smith had been arrested in Miami Beach after the 2011 season for driving under the influence (which, according to the Sacramento Bee, drew a reduced charge of reckless driving when Smith qualified for a first-time offenders’ program).
Though Smith, 22, was the victim in the stabbing incident, it was he who apologized through the media to the organization, teammates and fans for putting himself in the party situation that apparently got out of his control.
“Letting everybody down was probably the saddest part,” Smith said, according to Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “I’m back 100 percent and I’m ready to go. … I’m more focused than ever.”
Smith, who had a sensational rookie season as a pass-rush specialist with 14 sacks, is targeted to become a full-time starter at outside linebacker this season, so the 49ers have much invested in the seventh overall selection of the 2011 NFL Draft.
According to Inman, Smith says the 49ers have supported him through the offseason incidents, with Harbaugh indicating he and Smith had a one-on-one meeting to discuss them.
Said Smith: “I just feel after the incidents that happened and the expectations that were set for me, I feel like I let the fans – and everybody that looked at me like that – down.”
Smith added that he knows now, “You just gotta be aware of everything around you and gotta make better decisions.”
“You live and learn,” he said.
Ian Rapoport, who covers the league for NFL Network and NFL.com, wrote that it is an encouraging sign that Smith blamed himself and no one else.
Wrote Rapoport: “Rarely does a person who is the victim find himself remorseful. Yet this is what Smith said. … Sounds like he realized he contributed to the result.”
Smith, wrote Rapoport, “Is beginning to get the reality that he can’t be like everyone else.”
For the 49ers, it’s a positive sign that Smith may be maturing.
Veteran linebacker Patrick Willis says he’s confident his young teammate is ready to step into a larger role this season.
“He’s certainly learned,” Willis told Inman. “Last year he came in on third downs, but this year they’re asking him to move into a starting role and asking him to fulfill a big job. Each day is a work in progress for him, and he’s going to get it.”