How will he prove the litany of poor decisions are a thing of the past?
"Honestly, time will show," Smith said Tuesday, making his first comments since getting suspended before the start of the season. "I’m not going to sit here and give you some, whatever, crazy answer. Time will show."
Smith was reinstated by the league Tuesday and will make his season debut Sunday against the Giants. He was handed a nine-game suspension by the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse and personal conduct policies.
Smith took part in practice with the 49ers (5-4) Tuesday for the first time since preparing for the final preseason game against the Texans Aug. 28. He was held out of that game, as were a number of starters.
It was reported Smith could have been reinstated earlier, perhaps as soon as the team's 13-10 loss to the Rams after its bye, but the league upheld his initial nine-game suspension.
Smith said he "did everything that was necessary," to get reinstated early and didn't get an answer from the league as to why he wasn't.
"Nothing that was clarified," he said. "That’s not important any more. I’m happy that I’m back and good to go."
Smith pleaded "no contest" to three felony weapons charges and two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence in a Santa Clara Superior Court May 21. He was sentenced in July to 11 days on a sheriff's work crew after his gun charges were reduced to misdemeanors. Smith will also be required to complete 235 hours of community service and serve three years probation.
Smith spent much of his downtime doing community service at the Menlo Park Boys and Girls Club, Northern Light School in Oakland, and the UCSF Children's Hostpital in San Francisco.
"There’s consequences for our actions – good and bad. Good consequences for good action," head coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday. "And there’s accountability. He has served that. He has done that. Look forward to moving forward in a fresh, clean slate. That’s what I anticipate and look forward to."
Smith said working with kids and others was mutually beneficial.
"They were excited. I think they learned a lot from me. There’s a lot of stuff that comes out about me and is said about me. Once they were able to meet me and be around me, I think I changed the way they felt. I think, actually, I know I had an affect on a large number of kids and people. I was happy because they had a big affect on me as well," he said.
Tuesday was initially thought to be a positive day for the 49ers with Smith's reinstatement being made official. But it came on the same day San Francisco placed seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis on injured reserve. His injured left big toe will require season-ending surgery.
And in other disconcerting news, Harbaugh said on KNBR 680 Tuesday linebacker NaVorro Bowman would require a MRI on his injured left knee. The team is looking to gather more information before opening his 21-day practice window after starting the season on the physically unable to perform list. The deadline to open his window is Tuesday Nov. 18, two days after Sunday's game in New York.
ESPN reported Tuesday Bowman said he was experiencing pain in that knee.
It remains unclear how the 49ers plan on using Smith Sunday against the 3-6 Giants. Last season, following his five-game absence while attending an in-patient treatment facility, Smith played 24 percent (12 of 67 snaps) in the team's 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
"We’re not ready to jump to predict that or answer that question," said Harbaugh. "Excited to have him back playing football, with the team. I think that’s where the hope, the excitement lies right now."
The 49ers' 4.50 percent sack rate ranks 26th in the NFL. But coordinator Vic Fangio's unit remains the league's No. 2 ranked defense, allowing 306 yards per game after Sunday's win in New Orleans.
Outside linebacker Dan Skuta, who has been Smith's replacement in base formations, did not play against the Saints while dealing with an ankle injury. His prognosis remains unknown, which could mean extended playing time for Smith. He will work in with Ahmad Brooks and rookie standout Aaron Lynch, who played 100 percent of the snaps Sunday for the first time in his career.
During his leave from the team in 2013, Smith wasn't able to workout and take part in team meetings as he has this season.
"I’ve learned a lot and improved a lot over the past year or so," Smith said. "...I’ve still done a good job staying in shape and body feels good. I’m ready to go."
Smith said he was in the best shape of his life at training camp and was the fastest player to 30 sacks in league history (27 games). So did he develop any new pass rushing moves during his time off?
"We'll see," he grinned. "We'll see."