SANTA CLARA -– The 49ers may have sustained their biggest on-field loss since last season with the team’s decision to release outside linebacker Aldon Smith on Friday after his fifth run-in with the law.
But before his teammates talked about what the 49ers lose in their defense, they expressed concern over the man off the field.
Smith was arrested Thursday for alleged hit and run, DUI and vandalism, according to Santa Clara Police. Two years ago, Smith entered into treatment for substance abuse and missed five games during the season.
“As a friend, I am (worried),” 49ers safety Antoine Bethea said. “We built a friendship since I’ve been here. Whatever it is, I hope he gets some help.”
[MAIOCCO: Hall of Famer Haley: Aldon Smith is me]
Said receiver Anquan Boldin, “For me, I’m more concerned about him as a person. Football doesn’t come into play when it comes to a situation like that. My whole thought is making sure he’s OK as a person.”
Safety Eric Reid said he believed Smith, 25, acted as if he had matured greatly after off-field incidents were responsible for him suiting up for just 18 games the past two seasons.
“He made huge improvements,” Reid said. “He seemed like a different person. Honestly, he did.
“His attitude. Just the way he talked. The way he interacted with people. He was making some real strides. This is just an unfortunate situation to add onto some of the other things that have happened to him. But he’s making progress and he’ll come out on the good side of this.”
Boldin said everybody in the 49ers’ locker room was surprised to learn of the incident and the immediate response of the 49ers to release him.
“I think everybody was shocked,” Boldin said. “I wasn’t here the entire offseason, but what I gathered, he worked his butt off. And it looked that way when I got here. I think it’s a shock to everybody."
It was perhaps the largest blow to the 49ers after an offseason that saw the club lose such players as Patrick Willis, Frank Gore, Justin Smith, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati and Michael Crabtree, in addition to cornerbacks Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver, who combined for 28 starts.
Smith sat out the first nine games of last season after serving a suspension for violations of the NFL’s policies on substance abuse and personal conduct. His return for a full season was viewed as a main reason the 49ers could express optimism for the upcoming season.
“It’s tough,” Reid said. “That guy might be the best pass-rusher in the league.”
“We got to keep rolling. Next man up, whoever that may be,” Bethea said. “They got to come in, step in and play well. Aldon, as we all know, when he’s on the field, he’s someone to reckon with. Whoever’s going to step into his spot has to come in and play well for us.”
The 49ers have depth at outside linebacker with Ahmad Brooks, Aaron Lynch, Corey Lemonier and rookie Eli Harold.
“We’re going to come together and get strong,” Bethea said. “We’re going to piggyback off one another, and we’ll be fine. Regardless of whatever happens to this team, we have capable players who are coming out here and making plays and having a capable team to get done what we want to get done.”
Said Boldin, “It’s a tough loss for us. Aldon is a great football player. It’s not about football for him. As a team we have to move forward. We have no choice. I think we’ll get over it. We have some guys behind him who are capable of getting the job done.”