SANTA CLARA -- His hair was shorter, his mood was brighter and Aldon Smith looked more like he had come back from summer camp than five weeks of treatment.
Is he 100-percent clean and sober now? That's impossible for anyone to know, including Smith.
Everything from here is a guess -- 49ers management is guessing, Smith's coaches are guessing, his teammates are guessing and fans are guessing.
But in Smith's first meeting with reporters since his time in an out-of-state facility and return to the 49ers last week, Smith seemed relaxed and unperturbed.
That is probably a step, just one, in a long journey for Smith, who infamously crashed his car and was arrested on DUI charges in September.
"We could all look into our lives and find something we need to work on," Smith said during in a 4-minute, 45-second session in front of his locker. "I've taken my time and I've done that."
Smith didn't go into any great details about his condition or his time in treatment for substance abuse.
He didn't elaborate on his feelings, he didn't talk about what caused his behavior, and he wouldn't name the clinic.
But Smith looked physically fit and more than ready to start rushing the passer again Sunday against Carolina -- and his teammates sure sounded like they expected exactly that.
"Talking to him, sounds great and looks great and ready to go," said defensive lineman Justin Smith. "So we're excited to have him back.
"He's a freak of nature, so I think he'll be ready to go no matter what."
Smith took more than 20 questions and didn't give expansive answers to any of them.
The real message wasn't in the words, it was in the scene: Smith at ease among his teammates, and also in front of the cameras and the tape recorders.
If there was a theme to anything Smith said, it was that he knows he needs to clear his mind in order to fulfill his NFL destiny.
His time in treatment? Sounded more like an attitude adjustment than a dramatic change of life.
"Maximize my potential -- I've got a lot of things I can do and a lot of goals I want to reach," Smith said.
"Just taking those steps to where I want to be is a goal of mine."
Smith was arrested on Friday, Sept. 20, was allowed to play in the 49ers' loss to Indianapolis two days later then checked into the facility after that.
He left the clinic last week and was on site at 49ers headquarters during the team's informal workouts.
In his absence, the 49ers went 5-0, while Smith watched some games on TV at the facility and checked in with teammates via text message.
When Smith arrived back in the locker room, Patrick Willis said players started yelling his name.
"It seems like he's in a good place," Willis said. "So it's about winning this game this weekend."
And there seems to be little chance that Smith's return to action will be held back at this point -- not by this organization.
Smith said playing Sunday is "crossing my mind," but quickly added that he's taking things step by step.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time, getting back here, being around the guys and just getting my life back at home," Smith said.
"I've got a 10th-month-old son, so I'm doing the father thing. I'm just trying to make sure I'm all ready to go."
That was definitely the message: All is right with Aldon Smith after five weeks away.
His teammates are happy he's back and it's a guarantee that Jim Harbaugh, Jed York and Trent Baalke are overjoyed to see him on the field practicing.
And they can't wait to see him play on Sundays again.
"Being away from football and being away from my teammates, these guys that are here in this locker room, that's difficult," Smith said.
"But it worked out. And I was able to get away and clear my head."
Now it's about football again -- if he can keep his life on course, he can play great football. He has proven that.
Which is why the 49ers have gone to these lengths for him, and why they have decided to believe in him again.
"It was good for me to get away and get my mind together and work, like I say, just to get to the positive spot I need to be at."