The 30-year-old missed the final months of last season, which included Villa’s charge to promotion through the play-offs, with a knee injury he acknowledges must now be managed during the rest of his career.
His workload during Villa’s pre-season training camp in the USA has been monitored by Smith and the coaching staff.
But the boss still views the Wales international as very much part of his plans, despite signing four centre-backs.
The arrival of Tyrone Mings, Kortney Hause, Ezri Konsa and Bjorn Engels ensures Smith has no shortage of options and the tactical flexibility to play three at the back when required.
Smith said: “We are managing James Chester. I want him to be challenging for the first game of the season.
“We all know what a good player he is and is another one who has played in the Premier League.
“With Engels, Chezzie, Kona, along with Tyrone and Kortney, they are great options to have.
It also gives us the chance to play two or three centre-halves at time in the league.”
Belgian defender Engels became Villa’s eighth signing of the summer when he completed a £9million switch from Reims on Tuesday night.
Smith said: “Bjorn is one I have kept an eye on for 18 months. He first came to my attention when I was at Brentford.
“I have kept my eye on his career and he is a player I really like.
“He is a great age. He can adapt well and his potential is to get better. He has a hunger to develop as well.
“He scores goals and is good from set-pieces in both boxes, calm and assured on the ball.
“That is something which attracted me. We scored 29 goals from set-pieces last season and that is something I want to target again in the Premier League. Set-pieces can win you games.”
Engels said: “I know the way the manager wants to play. I think I will fit into that style.
“He doesn’t just want to be a part of the Premier League. He wants results and to get high as possible.”