SANTA CLARA For the second straight season, an NFL-high nine 49ers were named to the Pro Bowl on Wednesday, and some of them figure to be playing next to each other in the all-star game.
Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner are the starting safeties, while Mike Iupati will start at left guard next to teammate Joe Staley, who will make his second straight start at left tackle.
The 49ers could have had another starting tandem. But teams must use a 4-3 defensive alignment in the Pro Bowl, meaning there is only one inside linebacker on the field. Patrick Willis is the starter at the position, and NaVorro Bowman is the only other inside linebacker on the NFC roster.
"I would love to be on the field with (Willis), but this is the way it's been set up for years, and you just have to roll with it," said Bowman, who last season made the All-Pro team but not the Pro Bowl squad.
Bowman, Whitner, Iupati and outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who leads the NFC with 191/2 sacks, will make their first Pro Bowl appearances.
Goldson, Staley, Willis, running back Frank Gore and defensive lineman Justin Smith were voted in last year as well. Willis is the first 49er to be named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first six seasons.
Whether Justin Smith is on the field Jan. 27 in Honolulu is doubtful. The 12-year veteran missed his fourth straight practice Wednesday after injuring his left elbow against New England on Dec. 13. Coach Jim Harbaugh has said he's not sure whether Smith will be back for the playoffs or whether he'll need surgery in the offseason.
All signs point to Ricky Jean Francois making his second straight start at right defensive end in Sunday's regular-season finale against Arizona.
"I don't know if it's a learning process," Aldon Smith said of playing next to Jean Francois. "(But) it's a different person next to you. You've got to learn how they play, and they've got to learn how you play."
Several 49ers made the Pro Bowl as alternates: guard Alex Boone, outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, offensive tackle Anthony Davis, tight end Vernon Davis, center Jonathan Goodwin, punter Andy Lee, cornerback Carlos Rogers and special teamer C.J. Spillman.
That means every member of the starting offensive line, along with tight end Davis, was recognized in the voting by players, coaches and fans. Iupati said he planned on taking close friend Anthony Davis and he wished he could take all the linemen.
"All five of our starters should have made it," he said. "I feel bad."
Et cetera Vernon Davis did not practice Wednesday after suffering a concussion in the first quarter Sunday against Seattle. Davis must pass a series of tests before he is cleared for full contact. The last time he missed a start was Oct. 7, 2007.
Two players joined the practice squad: safety Curtis Taylor, a 49ers draft pick in 2009; and defensive lineman Lamar Divens. The team had openings after elevating linebacker Cam Johnson to the 53-man roster and cutting linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis.
Brooks (shoulder), cornerback Tarell Brown (shoulder, knee), linebacker Clark Haggans (shoulder), running back Bruce Miller (shoulder), Rogers (knee, toe), Aldon Smith (shoulder) and defensive tackle Will Tukuafu (neck) were limited in practice.