By Simon Evans
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick has dominated the headlines for getting his team to the Super Bowl but the 49ers chose outside linebacker Aldon Smith as their most valuable player.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh revealed on Monday that second year Smith, who was second in the National Football League during the regular season with 19.5 sacks, was named most valuable player after a vote by the team's players and coaches.
"There are so many great players on this team it really is an honor to get this award. To come here in my second year and get MVP, it means a lot to me," Smith told reporters.
Although Smith has not managed a sack in the last five games, Harbaugh said he remained a potent part of the team's defense in many other ways.
"Not having the sacks there -- that low-hanging fruit that people see, they don't always see the things Aldon's doing so well. That's why they voted him the most valuable player," he said.
Harbaugh highlighted Smith's role in the comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game as an example of his less noticeable work.
"He got a game ball for his performance in the Falcons game, because he had a lot of pressures and hurries," said Harbaugh. "He also played the run extremely well and recovered a fumble. Overall he did a really thorough job and had a good game."
Smith's recent sack drought has coincided with an injury to defensive end Justin Smith, who he has forged a very productive partnership with in his two seasons.
Harbaugh said that injury has "probably played a part" in the reduction in sacks and Aldon Smith himself acknowledged the vital role his partner has played in his development.
"From the time I stepped into the NFL he was the guy who helped me out. We worked out together during the lockout. On the field, we just work well together, we feed off each other and have a rhythm that we have developed together," he said.
Justin Smith said he has noticed that as his team mate's reputation has grown, opposing team's quarterbacks are looking to get rid of the ball much quicker.
"What the quarterback knows is that you have to get rid of the ball," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if they don't have a clock that goes off when you're practicing against a guy like Aldon. The ball has to come out in three seconds."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)