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Beck Diefenbach / AP

Michael Wilhoite has started every game of the preseason at inside linebacker but still hasn’t been declared the starter for the regular season

And the winner is? 49ers’ ILB job remains open

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014 - 3:51 pm

SANTA CLARA -- Vic Fangio isn't quite ready to name Michael Wilhoite the winner of the team's competition to replace linebacker NaVorro Bowman in the starting lineup.

“He hasn’t proven that yet totally, but we’ll wait until after Thursday (vs. the Texans)” the 49ers' defensive coordinator said. “Give these younger guys a good, healthy dose of snaps and see if they can make some progress. We’re confident in Mike and we think he’ll do fine in there like he did last year in those couple games he played.”

Wilhoite may not officially have the job. But he's been the starter next to Patrick Willis throughout the offseason as well as during Sunday's game against the Chargers. The duo teamed up to stop San Diego running back Ryan Mathews on a 4th-and-1 carry in the first quarter.

Willis has said he feels comfortable next to Wilhoite, who is playing the “Jack” position as opposed to the “Mike” spot that Willis has manned. But the veteran linebacker also has been impressed with third-round pick Chris Borland, who has been pushing for the starting role.

“That was a great stop,” Willis said of the fourth-down tackle. “Mike came through and cleaned him up good. It's going to be plays like that where it's going to be us two and there's going to be times when we have to make plays individually. I can count on Mike and have complete faith in him. I know if Chris gets out there, each week he's going to be prepared.”

During training camp, Fangio said Borland was relying on his instincts too much and not trusting the design of the play. Has he improved in that regard?

“He’s getting better,” Fangio said Tuesday. “He’s understanding that what he sees, he can’t always go to all the time. There are assignments that have to be carried out. It’s not perfect yet but he’s improving in that area. It’s easy to tell a player what to do. They’ve got to feel it and see it and see the importance of it and it’s happened to him enough that I think he’s moving in that good direction.”

Wilhoite is tied for second in the NFL in preseason tackles with 19. Borland isn't far behind with 14.

Et cetera – Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks was not in uniform for Tuesday's practice and was instead working with a trainer, raising the possibility that he wouldn't play in Thursday's preseason finale.

* Fangio said that nose tackle Ian Williams would play Thursday but that he hadn't decided whether fellow defensive line starters Justin Smith and Ray McDonald would suit up.

* Safety Antoine Bethea was out of his blue, “no-contact” jersey, signaling that he had passed the league's post-concussion protocol. Bethea suffered a concussion Aug. 17.


Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.

Read more articles by Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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