After recording 19.5 sacks in '12, the third-year pass-rusher started just half of the 49ers regular season games this year, playing in 11 overall.
Smith would still manage a team-high-tying 8.5 sacks, but his six-week absence from the team following his Sept. 20 arrest made an impact, too.
"That was a time where we needed to find out what kind of team we have, what kind of defense we have," said another outside linebacker,
For Smith, he needed to find out who he was and how he fit in upon his return.
"I had some adversity, I battled through it at the beginning of the year,” Smith said. “To be back here a game away from the Super Bowl, that's all I'm focused on right now.
"I'm playing good right now. We're all playing good. We just have to keep it going."
On the eve of his third straight NFC Championship game – it’s all Smith has ever known – he sounded thankful, sitting with reporters before Thursday afternoon’s practice in preparation for the 49ers visit to Seattle on Sunday.
"We're a family around here,” he said. “We have each other's backs. It's good being back here with guys who look at me like a brother."
It should come as no surprise then that Smith also said he believes one of San Francisco’s key to success against the Seahawks will be its teamwork up front.
This translates directly to the field, and the plan to combat Russell Wilson and the explosive Seattle offense.
"We need to work as a team with our rush,” he said, “making sure we're not rushing as individuals but collectively, that way (Wilson) doesn't get away and make big plays.
"We have to stop run. Once we do that, we have to stop the pass.”
While he said learning from past mistakes has allowed him to grow the most as a man, being a good teammate has helped him be a better professional.
Jim Harbaugh echoed this sentiment.
“I feel very good for Aldon and he's carried the water, the biggest share himself,” the coach said this week. “There have been a lot of people that have helped. He’s got a great family, his mother, father, A-plus, plus. And he's handling his business. We all tend to forget that the reason we got smart is because we learned from our mistakes.
"He's been really good as a teammate. And on the field he's been outstanding. Teams that want to block Aldon Smith one-on-one are whistling dixie. That's the way he's playing right now. Therefore, he's getting quite a bit of double-team chips, help from the (running) backs and the tight ends, and he's really playing well.”
Brooks, who practiced Thursday despite enduring a cold, may the beneficiary of the additional focus put on Smith. He has recorded 4.5 sacks in two playoff games; no NFL player has recorded as many as six since 1982.
Those are Smith-like totals.
"I wouldn't say he's playing as good as he ever has, but he's playing good," Brooks said of Smith. "He's the same guy. He doesn't have the sacks that he normally has, but he's still dominating out there on every play."