Five starters. Less than three years.
Through injury, free agency, disciplinary issues and retirements, that's all that's left from the opening lineup the 49ers trotted out to begin Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens (who are encountering issues of their own).
That doesn't even account for the coaching staff. Jim Harbaugh's shelf life ran out with management and many players. Rather than bring in a fresh face like Adam Gase or elevate their impactful defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (whom Harbaugh brought with him from Stanford), they went with the solid, dutiful, yet non-charismatic eight-year defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula, who seemed in over his head from the opening press conference. As the Bears take their second swing in three weeks at getting back to .500 at Soldier Field, they get a squad that's gone 0-5 on the road, but has a win versus Atlanta and two gritty losses to Seattle and Arizona the past two weeks.
San Francisco was one of the pit stops on the Gase Head Coach Interview Tour, but as ex-play-caller Greg Roman departed for Buffalo, Tomsula was promoted from within.
Geep Chryst, the former director of research and quality control with the Bears under Mike Ditka and Dave Wannstedt (via UW-Platteville) got his first NFL O.C. gig since 2000 (for the 1-15 San Diego Chargers) with the Niners this year. Previously the quarterbacks coach that couldn't raise Colin Kaepernick's game, Chryst's unit ranks last in points per game and total offense and 30th in passing. But since Kaepernick's season-ending torn labrum a couple of weeks ago, Blaine Gabbert's been better than the former franchise QB. The ex-10th overall pick who washed out in Jacksonville has completed 65 percent of his passes with a 91 rating. He tossed for over 300 yards in Sunday's 19-13 loss to the Cardinals.
Both of Gabbert's touchdown passes in the two losses he's started have gone to tight end Vance McDonald, who has 10 receptions for 136 yards in those games after escaping the shadow of the traded Vernon Davis. Garrett Celek was also being utilized until his ankle injury Sunday, but their third tight end, former Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell, slid in to grab three passes for 67 yards.
Outside of that group, Gabbert's been targeting brief 2014 Bear Shaun Draughn and Canton contender Anquan Boldin. Draughn's caught 17 passes and run for 146 yards (3.4 ypc) after Carlos Hyde (stress foot fracture), Reggie Bush (knee, IR) and Mike Davis (hand) hit the trainer's room. The 35-year-old Boldin (44-558, two TD's) continues carrying the wide receiver load. Gabbert found him eight times for 93 yards against the Cards, moving him into 13th on the all-time receptions list (past Randy Moss) and within 125 yards of Steve Largent for 17th on the NFL's career receiving yards list.
Letting road-grater guard Mike Iupati depart in free agency (to division-rival Arizona) and the apparently temporary retirement of tackle Anthony Davis has weakened the offense's front. Four-time Pro Bowl tackle Joe Staley and guard Alex Boone (two of the five Super Bowl starters referenced above) remain, but center-to-right tackle has experienced either growing pains or mediocrity. The Niners have allowed 32 sacks (seventh-most in the league).
Justin Smith. Aldon Smith. Patrick Willis. Chris Borland. Chris Culliver. Perish Cox. Oh, and Ray McDonald. Those were seven key pieces Fangio had to play with that are now gone, part of a unit that had Top 5 finishes during his four years there with Harbaugh. They come to town ranked 29th in total defense, but had to be doing something good to hold Arizona to just two touchdowns Sunday.
This past offseason marked the second straight year the Niners lost both starting cornerbacks in free agency. Tramaine Brock dropped an easy end zone interception Sunday that would've been his fourth. Opposite corner Kenneth Acker also has three, but was benched for a while versus Arizona. Veteran safety Antoine Bethea is done for the season due to injury, but former Northern Illinois star Jimmie Ward remains the nickel back with the solid Eric Reid remaining a fixture at strong safety while second-round rookie Jaquiski Tartt has moved in for Bethea.
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NoVorro Bowman is as good as ever and a Comeback Player of the Year candidate following his gruesome knee injury two Januarys ago in the NFC title game. His 105 tackles ranks second in the league, while Ahmad Brooks has four sacks and 92 tackles while stepping outside the shadows of his role in the McDonald sexual assault fiasco. And while Willis and Borland retired, the linebacking corps has rebounded courtesy of 2014 fifth rounder Aaron Lynch (6'6, 270) who has 6.5 sacks in following up his six as a rookie. And Michael Wilhoite, an undrafted free agent five years ago from the Division II Washburn Ichabods, is just outside the NFL's Top 10 in tackles.
There's opportunity for the Bears' ground game to get untracked because new coordinator Eric Mangini's front no longer has Justin Smith, or McDonald and now Glenn Dorsey, who tore his ACL on the openings series two weeks ago. That leaves nose tackle Ian Williams working with third-year man Quinton Dial. But highly-touted 17th overall pick Arik Armstead had only seen spot duty before Dorsey's injury.
Bruce Ellington is the kickoff and punt returner on units that rank 20th and 17th, respectively. 40-year-old Phil Dawson is still kicking younger than his age, hitting all 18 field goal attempts since his first of the season was blocked. The Niners invested a fifth-round pick in punter Bradley Pinion, but he and his coverage unit rank just 25th in gross average, 20th in net after trading three-time Pro Bowler Andy Lee.