SANTA CLARA – On the surface, inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite had a strong first half and only seemed to strengthen his case to replace NaVorro Bowman in the 49ers’ starting lineup.
But instead of being satisfied with his performance, Wilhoite focused afterward on three plays that got away in the 49ers’ 34-0 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Wilhoite recorded seven tackles, tying with safety Jimmie Ward for team-high honors. He also had a quarterback hurry. But Wilhoite proved to be tough on himself on his personal report card.
“Not good, honestly,” Wilhoite said when asked to assess his performance.
“There were three plays I felt I should’ve made, and I didn’t. I’m going to focus on the things I can do better. I missed tackle in cover 2. I didn’t read out of a blitz, and I got called for holding. All three of those things are stuck with me. I got to correct those things as soon as possible.”
Patrick Willis did not start, so Wilhoite and rookie Chris Borland made their second start together as they compete for the job for the responsibility of replacing Bowman for approximately half of the season. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio suggested the 49ers could use one player on base downs and another in passing situations.
“(I) saw some good plays,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said when asked to evaluate the play of Wilhoite and Borland. “Again, we’ll look at it closely. We’ll see some good individual plays, and we’ll see overall us playing as units needs to be a heck of a lot more precise. We got to drill it down and see who we’re playing and who can rise to the challenge this week.”
Borland, a third-round draft pick, had five solo tackles. However, he also appeared to blow a coverage in the middle of the field, and Peyton Manning capitalized with a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Julius Thomas. Recently, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Borland is going to have to do a better job of fulfilling his role in the team’s defense without much free-lancing.
“I think Coach Fangio is right,” Borland said. “At Wisconsin, I developed a few bad habits – just personally trying to do too much. But I’ve been really trying to focus on just doing my job and doing it well.
“Peyton Manning makes it tough. He always puts in the worst possible position as a defender because he’s so smart. They were dinking and dunking a lot today. But it was good. It was a good opportunity to go up against one of the best and learn from that.”
Wilhoite entered training camp as No. 1 on the depth chart. Fangio said last week that competition is too close to call. Wilhoite, who started two games last season when Willis was injured, has been given no clues about what is going to happen.
“I have no idea,” Wilhoite said. “I don’t know what these coaches are thinking. I don’t know if they’ll bring anybody us in. I don’t know if they’re going to stick with what we got and have us fight for it. I have no idea. I’m focused on correcting those mistakes.”