SANTA CLARA – The 49ers received an injection of talent on the practice field this week that included a 1,000-yard receiver and a pass-rusher who amassed 19.5 sacks last season.
All-Pro outside linebacker Aldon Smith is back with the 49ers after missing five games while seeking treatment for substance abuse.
“Of course, I didn’t want to be away from the sport I love,” said Smith, who appeared at ease Tuesday while answering questions in front of his locker. “But it was good for me to get away and get my mind together and work to get into the positive spot I need to be at.”
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree also returned to practice after sustaining a torn right Achilles tendon on May 21. While Smith is expected to be available to play Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, Crabtree might require more practice time to get into game shape.
Smith declined to reveal where he sought treatment, saying only it was “out of state.” He entered the facility on Sept. 23 -- three days after his arrest on DUI charges and one day after the controversial decision for him to suit up and play against the Indianapolis Colts. He said he got back to the Bay Area on Oct. 28.
“It’s been a process since I left, you know being back now, it’s been a process,” Smith said. “I’m getting there. Every day is just a step closer to getting to where I want to be.”
When asked where he wants to be, Smith answered, “Maximize my potential. I have a lot of things I can do, and a lot of goals I want to reach. So taking those steps to get to where I want to be is a goal of mine.”
Smith was activated last week off the reserve/non-football illness list. The NFL granted the 49ers a one-week roster exemption, which expires Wednesday.
Smith said he received a lot of support from family, friends, the 49ers and his teammates. And linebacker Patrick Willis said the support will continue with letting Smith have some room to breathe.
“You have a guy such as Aldon and his talent, the biggest thing we can do for him is let him know we’re here for him, let him know that we’re his teammates, but also just let him grow on his own,” Willis said.
“Sometimes in going through things like he’s gone through, the last thing you want to do is have a million people have a say-so and tell him what’s right. The best thing he can do is be true to himself and keep a tight circle and understand that if he wants to talk, we’re here for him.”
Smith said he was able to watch some games, keep in contact with some teammates and coaches work out a couple days a week to remain in good physical condition. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks said Smith demonstrated he was in strong shape as coordinator Vic Fangio paced the defensive players through an on-field workout during practice Monday.
“I kind of got winded, and I’ve been here all season,” Brooks said. “Aldon wasn’t huffing and puffing, even though he’s gained a few pounds.”
Smith said his focus has been narrow since rejoining his teammates.
“That’s crossing my mind,” he said of Sunday’s game against Cam Newton and the Panthers. “I’m taking it one day at a time, getting back here and being around the guys. Just getting my life back at home. I have a 10 month old son, so I’m doing the father thing. Make sure I’m all ready to go.
There seems to be little doubt that Smith will be ready to play every snap – if that’s how the 49ers decide to use him.
“He’s a freak of nature, so I think he’d be ready to go no matter what,” 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith said. “But he definitely looks ready to go.”
The 49ers won all five games in which Smith was out of the lineup. The team compensated for Smith’s absence with Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier sharing the workload.
“Anytime you’re missing a superstar, it’s going to hurt,” Justin Smith said. “And, I mean, Aldon Smith is a superstar in this league. And we’re going to be excited when back out there.”
The 49ers will also get a superstar back on offense when Crabtree returns to the 53-man roster.
DAY 1... http://t.co/tONIzM03G5— Michael Crabtree (@KingCrab15) November 5, 2013
Crabtree, who underwent surgery on May 22 to repair a torn right Achilles, was cleared to take part in his first practice of the season. The 49ers can activate Crabtree at any point within a 21-day window, which opened Tuesday.
As he was leaving the 49ers’ practice facility on Tuesday, Crabtree said his first practice went well and he’s feeling good.
Crabtree led the 49ers last season with 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns. He became the 49ers’ first 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens in 2003.