SANTA CLARA – Looking relaxed, confident and at peace, Aldon Smith on Tuesday addressed the media for the first time since leaving the 49ers for an out-of-state treatment facility in late September.
Smith alternately said he needed the time away to get his "mind together" and to "clear my head."
The 24-year-old outside linebacker, who was arrested Sept. 20 for misdemeanor DUI, his second DUI arrest in as many years, said he is taking steps toward straightening out his life. But he stopped short of saying he has conquered his issues.
Instead, he said it's a process.
"I'm getting there," Smith said. "Every day is just a step closer to where I want to be."
Even when asked if he'd play Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, which would be his first game action since Sept. 22, Smith said it was a work in progress.
"That's crossing my mind," he said of playing. "You know, I'm just taking it one day at a time – getting back here, being around the guys, just getting into my life back at home. I've got a 10-month-old son. So I'm doing the father thing. So I'm just trying to make sure I'm all ready to go."
His teammates were more certain Smith will be back on the field.
Justin Smith, who lines up next to Aldon Smith, said it didn't matter that his teammate had missed more than a month's worth of practices.
"Talking to him, he sounds great and looks great and is ready to go," Justin Smith said. "He's a freak of nature. I think he'll be ready to go no matter what."
Fellow outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks said he could attest to Aldon Smith's readiness. All the outside linebackers went through a drill before Monday's practice, Brooks said.
"Coach (Vic) Fangio had us going through drills, rapid fire," he said. "And I kind of got winded. And I've been out there all season. Aldon, he wasn't huffing and puffing like I was. Even though he gained a few pounds, he's still in good shape."
Despite missing the past five games, Smith still leads the 49ers with 4 1/2 sacks.
Smith declined to say where he's been the past month and a half, only that it was out of state. He said he was able to work out twice a week and tuned into the few 49ers games that were broadcast in that area. The team has gone 5-0 in his absence.
Smith also said he was able to trade text messages with teammates. Patrick Willis, one of the players who communicated with Smith, said there was a nice reception for Smith the first time he walked into the locker room.
"To have those kinds of teammates, to know that guys care about you that much, it makes you want to come back and do (things) right," Willis said. " The biggest thing we can do for him is let him know we're here for him."
Said Smith: "Being away from football and being away from the guys here in this locker room – that's difficult. But it worked out, and I was able to get away and clear my head."
The DUI incident is not the only trouble Smith faces. He also has been charged with three felony gun possession charges after illegal, semiautomatic rifles were found at his house following an out-of-control party in June 2012. Smith returned to the Bay Area on Oct. 28, turned himself in and posted bail.
He is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 12 in connection with the weapons charges. He has a Nov. 19 court date related to the DUI charge.
Additionally, he is facing civil suits filed by two men who were shot at the 2012 party.
The NFL is likely to discipline Smith in some fashion when his legal issues are resolved. However, Commissioner Roger Goodell said in London that Smith's time away from the 49ers last month will be factored in when the league decides on that discipline. Smith officially missed six weeks of the season while he was in treatment.
Smith said he hasn't spoken with Goodell but has been in contact with the league.
"Making sure this doesn't happen again," he said.
Read Matthew Barrows' blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320.