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Sunday, February 5, 2012
No DeBartolo? 49ers can think big picture

By Mike Sando

INDIANAPOLIS -- Over the past year, the San Francisco 49ers have hired Jim Harbaugh, drafted Aldon Smith, posted a 13-3 record, won a playoff game, placed an NFL-best nine players in the Pro Bowl, watched former owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. become a Hall of Fame finalist and secured funding for a new stadium.

Oh, and Harbaugh was named coach of the year Saturday night.

Those notable achievements should ease whatever sting the 49ers are feeling after DeBartolo failed to earn Hall of Fame enshrinement and Smith, coming off a 14-sack season, finished second to Von Miller in balloting for NFL defensive rookie of the year.

DeBartolo was a first-time finalist facing stiff competition from candidates the selectors had been considering for years, including Cortez Kennedy and Chris Doleman, enshrinees with ties to current NFC West franchises. Failing to make the cut doesn't necessarily mean a candidate was deemed unworthy. Sometimes it means there were simply five other candidates with greater appeal among the 15 modern-era finalists considered each year.

Smith, meanwhile, finished his rookie season with 14 sacks as a situational pass-rusher. He played about half the defensive snaps and did not start. Miller started 15 games and had 11.5 sacks while playing nearly 80 percent of the defensive snaps for Denver. Both were strong candidates. Smith seemed to gain on Miller late in the year.