After an overseas trip to London to host the Jacksonville Jaguars, followed with a bye week, it’s back to business for the 49ers. The second half of their season kicks off on Sunday when they play the Carolina Panthers at Candlestick Park, but the 49ers may be better than before; the missing pieces to the puzzle are finally back in place.
Leading sacker Aldon Smith was activated to the 53-man roster last week and practiced with the team for the first time in six weeks. Smith’s life spiraled downward after being arrested for D.U.I. and then placed in substance abuse treatment in September.
< p>I’ve gotten a lot of support, from my family, friends, the organization, teammates and everything. It really says a lot that people care about me outside the field, that they care about me as a person,” Smith said. We could all look into our lives and find something that we need to work on. I’ve taken my time and I’ve done that.”
Aldon addressed the media on Tuesday before practice and kept a smile while he was floored with questions. Smith talked about his focus away from football and now being back on track to finish out the second half of the season.
“I’ve grown a lot and I’m still growing,” he explained. “I came into the league on the young side of things, and I’ve just taken away every free chance I’ve gotten to get better and grow. Being away from my teammates and the guys here in the locker room was difficult, but it worked out. I was able to get away and clear my head.”
“Since he came in, he’s been very productive for our defense, a play-maker for our defense and to get him back is a good thing,” said linebacker Patrick Willis.
For the first time this season, Michael Crabtree has also been cleared to rejoin the team. Suffering a torn Achilles during Organized Team Activities back in June, Crabtree returned to practice this week. While there is no timetable on his return, he could possible see action within the next two weeks depending on how well he’ll do practicing with Colin Kaepernick and the first team.
“Everybody kind of watches out of the corner of their eyes, they’re doing their drills and it’s neat to see any player that comes back from a serious injury,” said Head Coach Jim Harbaugh before practice on Wednesday.
“Understanding the grueling rehab that’s taken place, the mental toughness, [and] grinding through those rehab sessions to be where they are now… [It’s] an exciting day when they trot out there in uniform and start taking reps,” Harbaugh added.
The 49ers also activated Mario Manningham and Eric Wright. Manningham will make his season debut this Sunday. Recovering from a surgically repaired left knee, Mario is determined to use his time wisely and link back up with his. He will give Kaepernick more options on offense instead of always needing to find and open Vernon Davis or Anquan Boldin.
“Now, I just have to show up in a game, get bumped around a bit and I’ll be right back to where I was,” Manningham said.