SANTA CLARA – Linebacker NaVorro Bowman is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, but 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil will still rely on him to contribute this season.

Bowman, a four-time first-team All-Pro player, will undergo surgery to repair his left Achilles, which was damaged Sunday on a non-contact play away from the ball in the 49ers’ 24-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

“It’s obviously a huge loss for our defense,” 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said on Tuesday. “Any defense would miss his play-making ability, his presence on the football field. I’m confident in the guys in that room to step up.

“But I still see NaVorro being a good part of what we do here, as far as his leadership abilities in the classroom with the guys and his presence in the locker room. He’ll continue to take that role for us off the field. But he’s a guy we will definitely miss on the field.”

Inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite started Sunday’s game in place of Gerald Hodges, who started the first three games. Hodges played no snaps on defense, and he often did not have his helmet on while the defense was on the field.

O’Neil said Hodges’ benching was not due to disciplinary reasons.

“He’s one of my favorite guys on the team,” O’Neil said. “He’s a big part of what we do.”


Nick Bellore entered the game in the third quarter when Bowman was sidelined with the injury. Bellore appears to be in line to starting Thursday night against the Arizona Cardinals.

“Obviously, it’s tough news hearing that about Bow,” said Bellore, who has not started an NFL game in his six-year career. “He’s a leader in this locker room and more importantly on the field. He’s someone we all look up to. He’s a fighter. He’ll be back from this. But we have to be ready to step in, in the meantime.

“We’ll have to rally together and overcome him not being in there and we have to step up. It’s time for guys like myself and the linebacker room as a whole to step up.”