SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers opened the season with nine team captains, yet they have appeared to be plagued by a dearth of true leaders while stumbling to a 4-9 record.
Three of the team captains are no longer on the field. Tight end Vernon Davis, who surprisingly made the initial list, was traded to the Denver Broncos; safety Antoine Bethea sustained a season-ending injury; and quarterback Colin Kaepernick was benched before undergoing season-ending ending surgery on his non-throwing shoulder.
Many of the tone-setting, lead-by-example players, such as Frank Gore, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis, played their final games with the 49ers last season. Coach Jim Tomsula said the hunt to find leaders for the new generation is ongoing.
“I think we’re in the process of that,” Tomsula said. “I think we’re in the process of what you’re talking about there. There’s a core of young guys that you’re really excited about. We keep talking about them, that you see that in them and it’s growing. And I think that is what we are in the process of building. If there’s something we’re building, that’s what we’re building. Those guys, those people. And, that’s why I have a lot of faith in the locker room. I do. There’s the right mentality and the right people and to keep raising that.”
One of the 49ers’ remaining captains, left tackle Joe Staley, made the eyebrow-raising comment following the team’s lackluster 24-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns that the 49ers had taken their opponents lightly. Tomsula disputed that characterization of the 49ers’ mindset.
When asked if he had an opportunity to speak with Staley about his comments, Tomsula said, “Not in depth, to be honest with you, not in depth. But, ‘What the heck?’ and ‘Yeah, I didn’t mean it that way.’ So there’s nothing to it. We’re moving forward. There’s nobody that overlooked anybody or anything like that. That’s very clear.”
The 49ers claim they put together a strong week of practice in the week between the team’s overtime victory over the Chicago Bears and the woeful performance in Cleveland.
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“It boils down to execution on game day,” quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. “But the one thing I can tell you, if you don’t have a great week of practice, there’s no chance that you’re going to play well on Sunday. So, we just have to keep doing what we’re doing throughout the week and translate it to game day.”
Tomsula said the buildup to the game against the Browns led him to believe the 49ers were ready to play a strong game.
“We really felt like it was a really good week,” Tomsula said. “That was a big part of the disappointment.
“There’s been some (up and down), that’s what we’ve got to get away from. . . . There were a couple weeks there where you saw it and then we stepped on our foot. Now, let’s get back on it and pick that up and keep going.”