SAN FRANCISCO – Outside linebacker Aldon Smith played every defensive snap for the 49ers just two days after his DUI arrest in September.
On Sunday, after practing for a full week upon his return from a voluntary leave of absence to seek treatment for substance abuse, Smith was a part-time player in the 49ers’ 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Smith sat out the entire first quarter and then played as part of the 49ers’ nickel pass-rush in the final three quarters while Dan Skuta saw the bulk of the action in base situations.
When asked if he was OK with his role, Smith answered, “Not really.”
After all, Smith was voted as the 49ers’ team MVP last season. And he entered the game as the 49ers’ leader in sacks with 4.5 in three games. Coach Jim Harbaugh said late in the week that Smith looked good during practices. Harbaugh said any decision on Smith's playing time would be a football decision. Yet, Smith did not see anywhere near his usual amount of playing time.
“I’m a competitor,” Smith said, “and I want to be on the field, but whatever works. The season is long, so we’ll see how it goes.
“I don’t really call those shots. I just put my clothes on, put my cleats on and play.”
Skuta played well in his extended role. He was credited with four tackles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hurry and two passes defensed. Smith was shut out across the stat sheet.
When asked if he believes he’ll return to his usual every-down role next week against the Saints, Smith answered, “I’m hoping so, yeah.”
With Smith seeing limited action, outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks supplied the pass rush on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton from the other side. Brooks tied a career-high with three sacks.
“He’s motivation for me to do a good job,” said Brooks, who took the team-lead with 6.5 sacks on the season. “He’s probably the best pass-rusher in the NFL, to be honest with you. You got to accept it, that’s just how it is. He makes me a better player.
“I get a chance to watch what he does in practice. I get a chance to watch what he does in the game and just try to implement that into my game as much as possible.”