Eight 49ers named to NFC Pro Bowl team


Eight 49ers named to NFC Pro Bowl team

The NFC West-champion 49ers had eight players named to the initial NFC Pro Bowl team on Tuesday.The 49ers who were honored are:PRO BOWL-BOUND
Defensive end Justin Smith
An 11-year NFL veteran, Smith has now been selected for the Pro Bowl in each of the past three seasons after not being chosen in his first eight. Smith is in his fourth season with the 49ers after seven years with the Cincinnati Bengals. Coach Jim Harbaugh has touted Smith for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He has been exceptional play in the run game and has shown a willingness to give himself up to enable teammates to get to the quarterback. Smith has 6.5 sacks this season. He was named a starter.
Inside linebacker Patrick Willis
It's five trips to the Pro Bowl in his first five NFL seasons for Willis, who was having another outstanding season before sustaining a hamstring strain on Dec. 4. He was named a starter.
Tackle Joe Staley
The fifth-year pro has regularly graded out as the 49ers' top offensive lineman. He has not previously been selected to play in a Pro Bowl. He was named a starter.
Cornerback Carlos Rogers
After Rogers spent his first six seasons with the Washington Redskins, he signed a one-year contract with the 49ers and has turned in his best season. Rogers has six interceptions on the season, topping his previous best of two interceptions. He has not previously been named to any Pro Bowls. He was named a starter.
Free safety Dashon Goldson
He entered the season with five career interceptions in his first four seasons. Goldson has six interceptions this season. Goldson had not previously been named to any Pro Bowls.
Running back Frank Gore
Previously named to the NFC Pro Bowl team in 2006 and 2009, Gore became recognized as the 49ers' all-time rushing leader this season. With 1,202 rushing yards, Gore has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the fifth time in his career. It's the second-highest total of his seven-year career, and he ranks behind only LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia) in NFC rushing.Kicker David Akers
A Pro Bowl selection on five previous occasions, Akers has already set the NFL record with 42 field goals on the season. Akers has made 7 of 9 kicks from 50-plus yards. With 156 points, Akers has already broken the 49ers franchise record, previously held by Jerry Rice.Punter Andy Lee
A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Lee is having his best NFL season with a 50.5 average and a league-best 43.5 net average. An eight-year pro, Lee previously made the Pro Bowl after the 2007 and 2009 seasons. Votes from fans, players and coaches each count one-third toward the selection of the Pro Bowl teams.The annual NFL all-star game will take place Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. Players from teams that advance to the Super Bowl will be replaced on the roster.The coaching staffs will be from the NFC and AFC teams with the best records that were eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs. The following players were named as alternates and might end up going to the Pro Bowl as fill-ins for players named on the initial list:PRO BOWL ALTERNATES
Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman
Bowman has been outstanding in his first season as the starter. He leads the 49ers in tackles. He was ahead even before Patrick Willis was injured. And his 133 tackles are the third-best in the NFC behind inside linebacker London Fletcher (Washington) and outside linebacker Chad Greenway (Minnesota). He has three fumble recoveries this season, tooOutside linebacker Ahmad Brooks
Brooks has started every game at outside linebacker and has recorded six sacks.Special teams Blake Costanzo
The free-agent pickup signed with the 49ers to join special-teams coordinator Brad Seely, for whom he played while with the Cleveland Browns. Costanzo, a fifth-year pro, has not previously played in a Pro Bowl.Tight end Vernon Davis
The sixth-year veteran was named to the 2009 Pro Bowl team when he posted career-best numbers with 78 receptions for 965 yards and 13 touchdowns. This season, Davis ranks seventh among NFC tight ends with 59 catches for 674 yards and six TDs.Return specialist Ted Ginn
He has not been named to the Pro Bowl in any of his previous four seasons. Ginn started the season in extraordinary fashion with a kickoff return and punt return for touchdowns in the final minutes to beat the Seattle Seahawks. He ranks fourth in the NFL in kickoff and punt returns: 27.6 average on kickoff returns, and 12.3 on punt returns.Center Jonathan Goodwin
The 10th year pro has made a solid contribution in his first season with the 49ers. He previously made the Pro Bowl with the New Orleans Saints in 2009.Guard Mike Iupati
Selected with the 17th overall pick of the 2010 draft, Iupati has been a powerful force in the run game since his arrival on the scene. He is a big reason the 49ers rank seventh in the league in rushing.Fullback Bruce Miller
The rookie from Central Florida finished second in the fan voting. Early in the season he took over as the starter when veteran Moran Norris sustained an injury. Miller remained as the starter after Norris got healthy. Miller has made a quick transition to fullback from defensive end in college.Defensive end Ray McDonald
The 49ers signed McDonald to a five-year, 20 million contract at the start of free agency, and he has played nearly every snap of defense this season. He's been stout against the run and has added a career-best 5.5 sacks.Strong safety Donte Whitner
Whitner was named as an alternate in his first season with the 49ers after signing a three-year contract with the 49ers. Whitner played his first four seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Whitner has three fumble recoveries.
Here are some of the 49ers' other players who were not named to the Pro Bowl team or as alternates:PRO BOWL SNUBS?
Outside linebacker Aldon Smith
The No. 7 overall pick in the draft leads all rookies with 14 sacks, which ranks fifth among all players in the NFL. Smith has already set the 49ers' franchise record for sacks from a rookie, and he's closing in on the NFL record of 14.5 set by Jevon Kearse (Tennessee) in 1999.Quarterback Alex Smith
Coach Jim Harbaugh went on a Pro Bowl campaign for Smith, who ranks seventh in the NFC with a 90.1 passer rating. Smith has done a remarkable job of taking care of the football with just five interceptions and two lost fumbles. But Smith ranks 16th in the NFC with an average of 195.4 yards passing per game.

What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense


What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense

SANTA CLARA – Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon did not win the right to suit up for the 49ers’ first four games. Behind the scenes, he made it his mission to earn a contributing role.

“He really started to get better with his coordination with his feet from the bump-and-run coverage and from playing ‘off.’ There’s always a light that goes on,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And we felt that for a couple weeks from Ahkello. Once he did that, he definitely earned the right to be out there.”

The plan was for Witherspoon to rotate into the action and share time with starters Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson. But he played just six snaps on Oct. 8 against Indianapolis before sustaining a concussion. Witherspoon returned to action last week and played 34 of the 49ers’ 74 snaps last week at Washington. He showed enough to coninue getting significant playing time.

“He’s earned the right to play,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He works his tail off in practice. He’s so deliberate in his approach. Whether it was scout team, whether it was team reps, whether it was walk-through, it didn’t matter.”

Witherspoon, the 49ers’ third-round draft pick at No. 66 overall, had a pedestrian training camp. Taking his lumps in August showed him what he needed to do to get into real games in October.

“I really turned up my focus, my intent every day in practice,” Witherspoon said. “What I did in camp wasn’t good enough to be a starting corner in this league, and that’s what I learned.

“I really focused on being aware of what it takes. That’s something I implemented these last four weeks -- that every day focus and competing on every single ball, and taking the mindset that no ball’s caught on me. I think that’s really helped my game, and helped these coaches trust me, as well.”

Witherspoon expected Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins to attack him. But of the 25 plays he was in coverage last week, Witherspoon saw only three passes come his way. He surrendered two receptions for 33 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Just being a rookie, I thought it was going to come, where they were going to be taking that one shot,” Witherspoon said. “I kept waiting for it to happen, but it didn’t happen. Going up against a smart quarterback, I know he saw me out there.

“There were a few times he looked my way in coverage. I wasn’t perfect in coverage, but I think he was looking. And I thought I did a good job.”

Witherspoon (6 foot 3, 195 pounds) is comfortable lining up on either side of the field, which he did during his college career at Colorado. He said he has not put on much weight but he has added more muscle, which has allowed him a better chance to compete physically against bigger NFL receivers.

Witherspoon fully expects to be challenged on Sunday when he is expected to see considerable playing time against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium. Witherspoon figures Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will be paying particularly close attention any time Dez Bryant lines up on his side of the field.

“They’re going to be looking at the ‘rook,’ ” Witherspoon said.

Said Shanahan, “They’re going to try to do that with all our DBs, so I don’t think it even matters who’s out there. They’re going to attack when we’re in single safety, which we are the majority of the time. They’re going to go outside and keep going out there until you stop them.”

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch Kyle Shanahan's full sit-down interview with Matt Maiocco on "49ers Game Plan," which is scheduled to air Saturday at 9 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).

49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine


49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine

The NFL fined 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon $24,309 for unnecessary roughness in last week’s game against Washington.

Garçon, who was not penalized on the play, lowered his helmet and struck Washington safety Montae Nicholson at the end of an 8-yard pass reception in the second quarter.

In 2013, the NFL passed a rule that bans the ball carrier from initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field.

Nicholson’s helmet flew off and he remained on the ground for a couple of minutes. He was evaluated for a possible concussion and shoulder injury. However, Nicholson was cleared and he returned to action.

After the play, Garçon and Washington safety D.J. Swearinger exchanged words, and Swearinger took a swipe at Garçon’s facemask. Swearinger was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The NFL fined Swearinger $9,115 for unnecessary roughness.