SANTA CLARA -- There were no surprises from 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio today: Michael Wilhoite will begin the season as NaVorro Bowman's replacement at inside linebacker while good-looking rookie Jimmie Ward is the top option at nickel cornerback.
Ward promises to see plenty of action Sunday against in Dallas. The Cowboys used three or more receivers nearly 60 percent of time last season. And with a dubious Dallas defense this season, that percentage could rise in 2014.
Wilhoite, meanwhile, actually is filling in at Patrick Willis' former spot, “Jack” linebacker. Willis will play the “Mike” linebacker role that Bowman has had the last three seasons. Willis and Wilhoite spent the offseason together and looked good as a tandem in the third preseason game against the Chargers.
Wilhoite beat third-round pick Chris Borland for the starting role. “He just played – throughout the offseason and preseason games – just played a little bit better and feels he warrants the position right now,” Fangio said of Wilhoite.
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Meanwhile, Fangio said he had a plan in place if Ray McDonald ultimately is kept out of the game.
“We feel good,” Fangio said of the depth at defensive end. “We've got (Demarcus) Dobbs and (Tony) Jerod-Eddie, (Quinton) Dial, Tank Carradine that are all willing, ready to go. Obviously Ray would be a loss. He's one of our top players, particularly up front. But we played without Ray last year some, too. So, we'll be ready to go.”
McDonald was arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse Sunday. The Santa Clara District Attorney's office is still investigating the matter and has not yet filed charges. He missed two games last season with a sprained ankle.