Every pro head football coach takes chances with the super-talented. The guy that is notably better than the second-best at his position can make the difference in a play, a game and a season that creates a championship.
A number of the elites, for a variety of reasons, show up as damaged goods. Pete Carroll in his career has coached many of them, maybe dozens, depending on the definition. Some of them succeed, some don’t. There’s no science, no algorithm, to it.
Aldon Smith is Carroll’s latest trial. But I don’t believe I’ve heard Carroll in his Seahawks tenure here put his own desire quite like this:
“I want him to succeed at this in the worst way.”
Certainly Smith’s football history beckons such intensity. In 2012, at 23, his second year after being taken seventh overall in draft out of Missouri by San Francisco, he led the NFL with 19.5 sacks and was selected first-team All-Pro as the 49ers went to the Super Bowl.
Now Smith is 31, with a four-year hole in his NFL resume after being suspended for various violations of civil law and league rules. He returned last season with Dallas, starting all 16 games at rush end with no disruptive behavior except to quarterbacks. Three of his five seasonal sacks were of Russell Wilson, which either explains Carroll’s eagerness for his services or justifies Wilson’s post-season complaints about being sacked too much.
“Funny you mention that,” said Smith, smiling, regarding a reporter’s question Saturday. “I was like, ‘Every time I
come here, I end up having a good game.’ Hopefully, now that I’m a part of this organization, and
hopefully now that I’ll be here a lot more often, so hopefully keep the trend up.”
Smith used the term three times. Many teammates and coaches have used it as well about Smith. As a recovering addict, every day begins hopefully. Only at the end of the day is there an outcome.
Asked how he’s managing sobriety, he said, “The tremendous amount of support I have around me, being honest
with them, leaning on them in the tough times. Just learning how to enjoy the good times.
“That’s the tough thing. When you’re used to going through a lot of adversity, you get comfortable
with adversity, and you don’t know how to enjoy good things when they happen.”
A good thing happened April 15, when he signed a one-year, free-agent contract at the veteran’s minimum ($990,000) with the Seahawks, a decision he said was a no-brainer.
“From the top down, from ownership to the coaches, the guys on the team, everybody in the building, I enjoy the culture they have here,” he said. “It’s something I wanted to be a part of. When it came down to making a decision, it was easy.”
The Seahawks figuratively broke out the shovels and dug into Smith’s history.
“We talked to him a number of times before we made a decision,” he said. “We did a lot of homework, a lot of research on him, and him as a person. A number of our coaches have been with Aldon in other places, which really helped us. They’ve seen him work on a day-to-day basis. That was really important. (Defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.) was really important in this decision.
“We’ve looked for Aldon to be consistent and stay connected to (his) word, which he has done that. You’ve got to feel that we’re communicating well. His intentions show up, so we have all of the reason to continue to back him.”
Yet on April 17, two days after he signed his contract, he was arrested in Louisiana for second-degree felony battery after he allegedly struck and choked a man married to one of Smith’s relatives. A local TV station reported that security video captured the incident. Smith turned himself in to police, with arraignment set for Aug. 24.
When Carroll said he wants Smith to succeed in the worst way, I don’t think that is what he meant. But there it is. Attempting to succeed despite allegedly repeating one of his worst ways.
When asked about the episode for the first time publicly Saturday, Smith said he couldn’t comment. But when he is arraigned, the NFL office could choose to comment with a suspension, or an exemption until the case is resolved. Or it could wait.
Any games lost wouldn’t necessarily be a crisis for the Seahawks because they have at rush end capable veterans Carlos Dunlap and Benson Mayowa. But as Mayowa and his position predecessor, Bruce Irvin, can attest, players get injured.
Carroll expressed no sense of betrayal over the episode, only a desire to keep the commitment.
“He said, ‘I need some work right now and I need some help right now. It’s going to take me awhile to get this done, that done.’ ” Carroll said. “He was not trying to cover for himself. He didn’t pull any punches on it at all. He was very up-front. It was most refreshing. But really it was the vulnerability that he demonstrated, from my perspective. I think he deserves all the support in the world to show that he can make this, so that’s what we’re going to do.
“The burden falls on him, he knows that.”
As ever, Carroll still sees a way out of Smith’s worst ways — hopefully.