49ers

49ers going to Pro Bowl in pairs

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49ers going to Pro Bowl in pairs

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers had nine players selected to the NFC Pro Bowl team on Wednesday. Interestingly, the contingent included four pairs with a first-time invitee joining a player who already has Pro Bowl experience.

Right outside linebacker Aldon Smith joins right defensive end Justin Smith.

Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman will make his first Pro Bowl trip, along with inside linebacker Patrick Willis, who was selected for the sixth time in six seasons.

Strong safety Donte Whitner, a Pro Bowl alternate twice in the past, joins free safety Dashon Goldson, a two-time invitee.

Left guard Mike Iupati made it for the first time. Left tackle Joe Staley, who lines up next to Iupati, will go for the second time in two seasons.

And then there's running back Frank Gore, who benefitted from Iupati, Staley and the rest of the 49ers' offensive linemen, each of whom was selected as an alternate.

--Outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who lines up on the right side next to defensive tackle Justin Smith, is going to his first Pro Bowl after not making the team a year ago despite recording 14 regular-season sacks.

Aldon Smith said there's an adjustment to playing without Justin Smith, whose status is in question due to an undisclosed left arm/elbow injury that has kept him out of the lineup the past six quarters. Aldon Smith, who ranks second in the NFL with 19.5 sacks, has not tossed a quarterback for a loss since Justin Smith left the lineup. He said his mind will not be on the Michael Strahan's sack record of 22.5 on Sunday when the 49ers finish the regular season against the Arizona Cardinals.

When asked if he likes his chances of getting the record, Aldon Smith answered, "I like our chances of getting a win."

Will he be thinking about getting the record?

"I'm going to be thinking about getting a win," he said.

--Bowman was selected as a first-team All-Pro last season, along with Willis. In other words, he and Willis were chosen by a panel of national media as the two best inside linebackers in the entire NFL. Yet, Bowman was not named to the NFC Pro Bowl team.

This time, Bowman and Willis are scheduled to go to Hawaii together.

"We know we play similar, we do some of the same things, so we don't have to switch positions or assignments too much," Bowman said. "That's benefitted us as a team.

"It's a great thing having so many guys from the same team in the Pro Bowl. That recognizes how great your team was. It's my first time. I'm just going to tag along and I'm looking forward to it."

--As Whitner pointed out, both he and Goldson were twisting in the wind when the lockout concluded in the summer of 2011. Whitner knew he would not return to play for the Buffalo Bills. And when Whitner signed with the 49ers, Goldson thought his career with the 49ers was over.

Eventually, they ended up together and made a pact to become the best safety tandem in the NFL. Whitner and Goldson were named Pro Bowl starters -- the first time teammates have started in the all-star game since 2005, when Philadelphia's Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis were honored.

"He makes my job a lot easier and I'm sure I make his job easier, too," said Whitner, who entered the NFL as the No. 8 overall pick of the Bills in 2006.

He also credited secondary coach George Catavolos, coach Dick Jauren and executive Marv Levy from his days in Buffalo, along with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell.

"When you make it to the Pro Bowl, you have to recognize that you don't make it by yourself," Whitner said.

--Iupati was equally grateful for those who contributed to his improvement since he came to the 49ers as a raw but talented small-college player from Idaho.

"I'm very grateful, and very blessed," Iupati said. "It's a credit to my teammates, especially the front line, their sacrifice, too. Credit to our coaching staff, coach (Mike) Solari, coach (Paul) Wulff and coach (Tim) Drevno for preparing us every day to go out and execute our plays."

Iupati benefitted from playing next to Staley, who was already entrenched on the left side when Iupati came along.

"He's such a great player, great teammate to play next to," Iupati said. "We work well together. It's a good thing."

LeBron James: Colin Kaepernick ‘had a vision like Martin Luther King’

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USATSI/AP

LeBron James: Colin Kaepernick ‘had a vision like Martin Luther King’

LeBron James is an avid football fan. He's now an even bigger Colin Kaepernick fan than the sport. Following the Cavaliers' practice on Sunday, James opened up on Kaepernick and his absence from the NFL. 

"I've commended Kap, and for him to sacrifice everything for the greater good for everyone, for what he truly believed in, the utmost respect to him," James said to ESPN. "Obviously he had a vision like Martin Luther King and like some of our all-time greats that people couldn't see further than what they were doing at the point and time. And Muhammad Ali and things of that nature."

James believes the masses don't truly understand what Kaepernick was doing when he first took a knee as a protest against social and racial injustices in America. For his actions, James respects Kaepernick choosing his beliefs over his sport.

"When it's something that's new and it's something that people are not educated about or don't understand what your beliefs are all about, people are so quick to judge and people are so quick to say that what you're doing is wrong," James said. "For him to sacrifice the sport that he plays and to sacrifice the things he's done his whole life because he knew what he believed in, I salute him. I salute and respect that."

Add James to the list of those who believe Kaepernick is being blackballed by the NFL for taking a knee last season. The more games he watches, the more James sees the evidence on the wall. 

"I don't represent the NFL. I don't know their rules and regulations. But I do know Kap is getting a wrong doing, I do know that," James believes. "Just watching, he's an NFL player. He's an NFL player and you see all these other quarterbacks out there and players out there that get all these second and third chances that are nowhere near as talented as him. It just feels like he's been blackballed out of the NFL. So, I definitely do not respect that."

Kaepernick, who recently turned 30 years old, appeared in 12 games for the 49ers in the 2016-17 season. Through the air he completed 59.2 percent of his passes and ended the year with 2,241 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Kaepernick also added 468 yards and two more scores on the ground. 

"The only reason I could say he's not on a team is because the way he took a knee," James said. "That's the only reason. I watch football every Sunday, every Thursday, every Monday night. I see all these quarterbacks -- first-string, second-team, third-team quarterbacks -- that play sometimes when the starter gets hurt or are starters that play. Kap is better than a lot of those guys. Let's just be honest."

For his career, Kaepernick has thrown for 12,271 yards and 72 touchdowns to 30 interceptions. With his speed as a dual-threat quarterback, Kaepernick has also gained 2,300 yards rushing and 13 more touchdowns. 

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

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AP

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blaine Gabbert will get his first start for the Arizona Cardinals when they play the Texans in Houston on Sunday.

Coach Bruce Arians announced the decision after Friday's practice.

Drew Stanton, the starter the last two games, bruised his knee early in the Thursday night loss to Seattle last week. He stayed in the game but has been limited in practice all week.

Arians said it will be a game-time decision as to whether Stanton or recently signed Matt Barkley would be Gabbert's backup.

Gabbert will be making his 41st NFL start. He has a 9-31 record. He signed with Arizona last offseason and was the third quarterback until Carson Palmer broke his arm against the Los Angeles Rams in London and was lost for the season.