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, he?ll move to right defensive tackle. It?s 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 doesn?t matter,? said Smith, who this week was announced as the winner of the Bill Walsh Award as the team?s most valuable player. ?It?s just a matter of going out and playing, whether it?s 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 Haralson?s 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.
?They?re 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 they?re strictly a 3-4 on first and second down.