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.
* 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.