Whitner, Goldson named NFC's starting safeties
When the AFC offense looks across the line of scrimmage in the 2013 Pro Bowl, it could be a lot like looking into the heart of the 49ers defense. Five San Francisco defenders were named starters for the Jan. 27 game at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii as the 49ers led all NFL teams with nine players selected to the league’s annual all-star game - seven of them as starters.
The 49ers, of course, hope they won’t have anybody playing in the game, which will be held the week before Super Bowl XLVII kicks off in New Orleans. No players from the two Super Bowl contestants participate in the Pro Bowl.
The Niners had more than half of their starting defense selected as Pro Bowlers, with tackle Justin Smith, linebackers Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith and safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner selected as starters. NaVorro Bowman – who teams with Willis at middle linebacker to form a dynamic duo in the middle of San Francisco’s rugged 3-4 defense – also was named as a Pro Bowler for the first time.
The Niners also had two players named as NFC starters on offense. Joe Staley will start at left tackle for the second consecutive season, and left guard Mike Iupati also will be a starter in his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
Running back Frank Gore was named to the NFC team for the second consecutive season and fourth overall.
The 49ers also had eight players selected as Pro Bowl alternates. That list includes right guard Alex Boone, outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, right offensive tackle Anthony Davis, tight end Vernon Davis, center Jonathan Goodwin, punter Andy Lee, cornerback Carlos Rogers and special teamer C.J. Spillman.
Here’s a look at each of San Francisco’s nine Pro Bowl selections:
LB Navorro Bowman: The third-year pro is making his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He leads the team with a career-high 180 tackles, while adding 2.0 sacks, five tackles for loss, one interception, one forced fumble and five passes defensed. A first-team All-Pro selection in 2011, Bowman ranks fourth in the NFL with 276 tackles since 2011, according to game book statistics. Bowman has played in 47 games (32 starts) since being drafted by the 49ers in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
FS Dashon Goldson: The sixth-year pro is making his second consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl and was selected as a starter for the first time. He leads the 49ers with three interceptions while adding 106 tackles, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and a career-high 11 passes defensed. Goldson has played in 80 games (63 starts) since being drafted by the 49ers in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft.
RB Frank Gore: The eighth-year pro, who will be making his fourth Pro Bowl appearance, has rushed for 1,146 yards and seven touchdowns on 238 carries (4.8 avg.) this season, to go along with 25 receptions for 213 yards and one receiving touchdown. It marks Gore’s franchise-record sixth 1,000-yard rushing season. A Pro Bowler in 2006, 2009 and 2011, Gore has played in 115 games (101 starts) since being drafted in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft out of Miami by the 49ers. He is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher with 8,771 yards.
LG Mike Iupati: The third-year pro is making his first trip to the Pro Bowl as a starter. Iupati is part of an offensive line that helped the team rush for 2,362 yards this season, ranking fourth in the NFL. The 2,362 rushing yards rank seventh in franchise history and are the most by San Francisco since 1998 (2,544). Iupati and the offensive line were awarded the Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award in Weeks 5, 7 and 12. He was originally drafted by the 49ers in the first round (17th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft.
OLB Aldon Smith: San Francisco’s first-round draft pick last year, Smith was selected a Pro Bowl starter in just his second NFL season. Smith has set the 49ers franchise record with 19.5 sacks this season, which currently ranks first in the NFC and second in the NFL. The second-year pro has also recorded 80 tackles, three forced fumbles, one interception and one pass defensed. Since 2011, he has registered 33.5 sacks, the most by any player in their first two years in NFL history. He has played in 31 games (15 starts) since being the No. 7 overall selection in the 2011 draft.
DT Justin Smith: The 12th-year veteran was selected a NFC starter for the second year in a row while earning his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. He ranks third on the team with a career-high 130 tackles, to go along with 3.0 sacks, one fumble recovery and two passes defensed. He also leads the team with 83 quarterback pressures and 56 quarterback hits. A free agent acquisition by the 49ers in 2008, Smith has played in 189 games (185 starts) since being drafted in the first round (4th overall) of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He had his string of 185 consecutive starts – third-longest among active NFL players – ended when he sat out last week’s game at Seattle with an elbow injury.
OT Joe Staley: Making his second consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl, the sixth-year pro was selected a starter for the second year in a row. He is part of an offensive line that helped the team rush for 2,362 yards this season, ranking fourth in the NFL. The 2,362 rushing yards rank seventh in franchise history and are the most by San Francisco since 1998 (2,544). Staley and the offensive line were awarded the Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award in Weeks 5, 7 and 12. He was originally drafted by the 49ers in the first round (28th overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft.
SS Donte Whitner: The seventh-year pro will be making his first career Pro Bowl appearance, and he’ll be doing it as a NFC starter. Whitner ranks fourth on the team with 112 tackles in addition to a career-high two forced fumbles, one interception and five passes defensed. A free agent acquisition by the 49ers in 2011, Whitner has started 96 of 99 since being drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the first round (8th overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft.
ILB Patrick Willis: The All-Pro linebacker becomes the first player in 49ers franchise history to make it to the Pro Bowl in each of his first six NFL seasons. Selected as a starter for the fifth consecutive year, Willis currently ranks second on the 49ers with 164 tackles to go along with 0.5 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 9 passes defensed. Willis has started all 91 games in which he has appeared since being drafted by the 49ers in the first round (11th overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft.