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49ers notes: Justin Smith's value is in simpler role

  • Justin Smith sacks Jets quarterback Brett Favre on Dec. 7. Smith is second on the team with five sacks. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

SANTA CLARA There is no longer the need to scan the playing field in search of Justin Smith.

Smith plays right defensive end in the 49ers 3-4 defense. In passing situations, hell move to right defensive tackle. Its just that simple.

This predictability is in contrast to early in the season when then-coach Mike Nolan wanted to move around Smith to highlight his versatility. In the season opener, Smith lined up at seven different positions, including all four linebacker spots.

To me, it really doesnt matter, said Smith, who this week was announced as the winner of the Bill Walsh Award as the teams most valuable player. Its just a matter of going out and playing, whether its outside, inside, wherever.

Smith has settled in during his first season with the 49ers after signing a six-year, $45 million contract. He is fourth on the team with 86 tackles. His five sacks rank behind only Parys Haralsons seven, and he leads the 49ers with 51 quarterback pressures.

Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said recently one of the changes he made to the defense after the firing of Nolan was to pare down the playbook. He wanted to get Haralson onto the field, so the 49ers have used primarily a 3-4 defense.

Haralson starts at left outside linebacker, while defensive lineman Ray McDonald has moved into a reserve role.

The main thing is you want to get your best guys on the field, Smith said, and Parys is definitely one of those guys.

The 49ers face the Rams at St. Louis on Sunday. Rams interim coach Jim Haslett told the St. Louis media that the 49ers have become a lot more basic in recent weeks.

Theyre more a 3-4 team now than ever, probably strictly a 3-4 team, where before they were bouncing around from a 3-4 to a four-man line, Haslett said. But theyre strictly a 3-4 on first and second down.

Theyre more vanilla than they have been in the past, I dont know why.

Manusky said in a recent interview that it is important for the defense to create an identity, rather than trying to do too many things.

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