By the end of his second season in the NFL, 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith was being hailed as one of the best pass rushers in the league and projected as a star for years to come.
As a rookie in 2011 he had 14 sacks, then topped that in 2012 with 19½.
His defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, said at the end of the 2012 season that Smith was almost impossible to consistently block, calling him “a combination of strength, size, speed, slither and long arms.”
But over the past two seasons, Smith’s star has faded – and the 49ers have missed him. Because of off-field issues and suspensions, Smith played just 11 games in 2013 – yet still came up with 8½ sacks. In 2014, he played just seven games and had only two.
As the 49ers get ready to head to training camp at the end of July, they know they need to get Smith back as a defensive playmaker if they want to be a more dangerous defense.
And, this offseason, there are strong indications that Smith is driven to achieve the same thing.
In an interview with journalist Dan Le Batard on his syndicated radio show this week, Smith said he wants to prove he’s still one of the NFL’s best pass rushers.
“I’m definitely in that conversation with those guys,” he said. “There’s been some things that have sidelined me, and prevented me from showing it. But I’m coming back healthy this year and ready to put together a full year. And I’ll show everybody how I feel and put it on display.”
Smith told Le Batard that he knows now that he represents not just himself, but his organization and teammates and owes it to all to achieve his potential.
“I believe that I’m one of the best players in this league, and it’s time for me to show everybody,” he said.