SANTA CLARA Aldon Smith said Tuesday he's learned a lot during the often tumultuous past year. One of the principal lessons, he said: "I think bad news sometimes circulates bigger than good news."
The speed and power of bad news was on display last week when a Twitter report that Smith had been "jumped" in a Columbia, Mo., restaurant created headlines in California and beyond. Columbia police acknowledge there was an incident at El Rancho restaurant, but it wasn't serious enough to fill out a report. Smith called the ordeal "absurd."
His refrain Tuesday when asked about it: "Nothing happened."
The original tweet likely would have gone unnoticed if not for Smith's checkered year. The headlines began in January with a DUI arrest and included an incident in which he received minor stab wounds at a house party he was hosting.
He also was the passenger in a car that flipped two days before the 49ers played Detroit on Sept. 23. Smith suffered a cut above his eye in the crash but played against the Lions.
He insisted Tuesday he's grown up in recent months.
"I hope so," he said. "That type of stuff? I mean, yeah. I'm growing up. I'm learning from my actions. I'm learning from everything good and bad. I'm maturing or whatever."
On the field, it's been nothing but good news.
Smith, 23, leads the 49ers with 7 1/2 sacks and is one sack ahead of his pace from last year when he set the club's rookie record with 14 overall.
As the 49ers head into Week 10, their defense ranks No. 2 overall, No. 2 against the pass and No. 5 against the run. They've allowed just 4.55 yards per play, tops in the league.
Still, Smith said he thought that he and the 49ers defense are being overlooked by the national media.
"I think we're going to play some of our best ball coming back from the bye week (in) the second half of the season," Smith said. "So if they don't see it now, they'll see it eventually."
Runner returns Rookie running back Jewel Hampton joined Tuesday's practice, the first session the rookie has been a part of since the offseason.
Hampton had surgery to remove bone spurs and scar tissue in his ankle during the summer, and the 49ers placed him on the reserve/non-football injury list to start the season. They now have a three-week window in which they can place him on the active roster.
That's unlikely given their depth at the position. For example, two runners already on the 53-man roster, Brandon Jacobs and second-round pick LaMichael James, haven't played a snap this season.
Hampton said he won't let the numbers deter him. "I'm here to show the team and the coaches that I can be here and give them something they may not have," he said.
The 5-foot-9, 210-pound Hampton joined the 49ers as an undrafted free agent. He played at Iowa before transferring to Southern Illinois, where he ran for 1,121 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. He said his ankle injury occurred last October and he simply played through the pain.
Et cetera While Hampton joined practice, the 49ers decided to keep linebacker Darius Fleming on the physically unable to perform list for the rest of the season. Fleming tore his ACL in May.
Every active 49er was on hand for practice Tuesday. Guard Daniel Kilgore, who suffered a concussion Oct. 29, was wearing a black, no-contact jersey.
Tackle Anthony Davis canceled a trip home to New Jersey over the bye week because of Hurricane Sandy but reported that friends and family in Piscataway were fine. Jacobs also said his acquaintances in the New York City area were OK.
"I pray for the people I don't know," he said. "Me being from Louisiana I know what that feels like."