Taking a break from an informal workout at San Jose State on Thursday, Davis repeatedly praised Smith, whom he says has matured this offseason.
Davis was among about two dozen players who have attended the workouts led by Smith, a free agent who plans to re-sign with San Francisco when the lockout ends. That included wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who did not practice much because of a sore foot.
Crabtree questioned Smith's status as the starter earlier in the offseason and downplayed the quarterback's efforts to organize workouts. Smith, however, shot down rumors that the two players were at odds and even called the third-year receiver to make sure everything was OK.
That's one of the reasons Davis is convinced Smith is ready to turn his career around.
"His approach to this whole thing, his approach to the game, his approach to the team (has changed)," Davis said. "I can see him evolving into a leader. He knows that he's on his last straw. He's got some competition and he has to get things done."
The 49ers used their second-round pick in this year's draft to get Nevada's Colin Kaepernick but first-year coach Jim Harbaugh persuaded Smith to return for another shot with the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2005.
Smith, who has declined to speak with the media this week, responded by organizing and conducting two rounds of informal workouts. He presides over the workouts on the field and runs the offensive meetings in the classrooms.
In trying to simulate the team's offseason workout schedule, Smith even brought out some new plays for Thursday's practice and kept the players on the field an extra 20 minutes to get additional work in.
"I'm sure Harbaugh's been in his ear, telling him that he has to be a leader," Davis said. "That's all we've been looking for is just someone to fall behind. Sometimes guys take their time to come around, and I think Alex is doing a tremendous job with handling this whole thing, being a leader and taking the big steps that he's been taking."
Crabtree hasn't taken many steps at all since pulling out of the team's workouts earlier this month with a sore foot.
Dressed in a long-sleeved black T-shirt with matching black shorts, Crabtree did mostly classroom work and light conditioning drills Thursday. He did catch one pass from rookie wide receiver Ronald Johnson on a simple fly pattern run at half speed, but otherwise the 49ers' 2009 first-round draft pick mostly studied plays scribbled on a piece of paper and occasionally threw a few passes.
A day after telling reporters he would talk to them on Thursday, Crabtree didn't even look their way as he sped past them on a golf cart before getting into his silver Mercedes and speeding away after practice.
Davis, whose seven touchdown receptions were one more than Crabtree had in 2010, plans to follow Smith's lead and become more of a voice in the 49ers locker room this season.
Still, San Francisco will be one of the team's trying to play catch-up when the lockout ends. The 49ers are among a handful of teams with a new head coach and new offense to learn.
"We're behind guys like the Colts and those teams that are already established because they have everything in place," Davis said. "But this right here puts us in the loop, puts us in the mix with everybody else because we have a chance to become familiar with the offense. It's not easy at the moment ... but we're getting there."