49ers Mailbag II: Justin Smith as good as last season


Q: Justin Smith's stats are down from a year ago, but do you believe he is being more effective in the defense than last year? (John E. Commons)
I'm not sure Justin Smith can possibly be better than he was a year ago. But there has not been any discernible decline in his play, either.Earlier this week, Aldon Smith was mentioned here as the 49ers' defensive MVP. The more I think about it, the more I believe a strong case can be made for Justin Smith. He might not have any sacks through eight games, but everything the 49ers' defense is able to accomplish is a direct result of his selfless approach.Justin Smith leads the 49ers with 45 quarterback pressures and 30 quarterback hits. And he typically has to fight through double-teams, which benefits Aldon Smith, as well as Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.Justin Smith continues to be a stalwart in the run game. He is on pace to record more tackles than a year ago. He has 68 tackles, according to the 49ers' coaches film review. Last year, he had 105 tackles. He has 5.5 tackles for loss -- exactly half the number he recorded a year ago.So I wouldn't say that Justin Smith is better, but he is every bit as good.Q: Did you give any thought to Chris Culliver being the MVP of the defense in the first half of the season? (Randy Ball)
Chris Culliver had an outstanding first half of the season as the 49ers' No. 3 cornerback. He has made the biggest single improvement on the team from a year ago.Culliver recorded two interceptions and broke up a team-leading 10 passes in the first eight games. Culliver is a big reason the 49ers' pass defense has been so good this season.But I did not give too much thought to Culliver as the team's defensive MVP because he's not an every-down player. But how long will it be before the 49ers move him into that role?Looking at the 49ers' salaries for next season, starter Carlos Rogers is scheduled make 5.85 million in base salary. At this point, I expect Rogers will be back. But if Culliver continues to play at a high level, the 49ers must at least consider moving him into a starting role in 2013.

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