49ers going to Pro Bowl in pairs

49ers going to Pro Bowl in pairs
December 27, 2012, 8:45 am
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Aldon Smith is going to his first Pro Bowl after not making the team a year ago despite recording 14 regular-season sacks. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers had nine players selected to the NFC Pro Bowl team on Wednesday. Interestingly, the contingent included four pairs with a first-time invitee joining a player who already has Pro Bowl experience.

Right outside linebacker Aldon Smith joins right defensive end Justin Smith.

Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman will make his first Pro Bowl trip, along with inside linebacker Patrick Willis, who was selected for the sixth time in six seasons.

Strong safety Donte Whitner, a Pro Bowl alternate twice in the past, joins free safety Dashon Goldson, a two-time invitee.

Left guard Mike Iupati made it for the first time. Left tackle Joe Staley, who lines up next to Iupati, will go for the second time in two seasons.

And then there's running back Frank Gore, who benefitted from Iupati, Staley and the rest of the 49ers' offensive linemen, each of whom was selected as an alternate.

--Outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who lines up on the right side next to defensive tackle Justin Smith, is going to his first Pro Bowl after not making the team a year ago despite recording 14 regular-season sacks.

Aldon Smith said there's an adjustment to playing without Justin Smith, whose status is in question due to an undisclosed left arm/elbow injury that has kept him out of the lineup the past six quarters. Aldon Smith, who ranks second in the NFL with 19.5 sacks, has not tossed a quarterback for a loss since Justin Smith left the lineup. He said his mind will not be on the Michael Strahan's sack record of 22.5 on Sunday when the 49ers finish the regular season against the Arizona Cardinals.

When asked if he likes his chances of getting the record, Aldon Smith answered, "I like our chances of getting a win."

Will he be thinking about getting the record?

"I'm going to be thinking about getting a win," he said.

--Bowman was selected as a first-team All-Pro last season, along with Willis. In other words, he and Willis were chosen by a panel of national media as the two best inside linebackers in the entire NFL. Yet, Bowman was not named to the NFC Pro Bowl team.

This time, Bowman and Willis are scheduled to go to Hawaii together.

"We know we play similar, we do some of the same things, so we don't have to switch positions or assignments too much," Bowman said. "That's benefitted us as a team.

"It's a great thing having so many guys from the same team in the Pro Bowl. That recognizes how great your team was. It's my first time. I'm just going to tag along and I'm looking forward to it."

--As Whitner pointed out, both he and Goldson were twisting in the wind when the lockout concluded in the summer of 2011. Whitner knew he would not return to play for the Buffalo Bills. And when Whitner signed with the 49ers, Goldson thought his career with the 49ers was over.

Eventually, they ended up together and made a pact to become the best safety tandem in the NFL. Whitner and Goldson were named Pro Bowl starters -- the first time teammates have started in the all-star game since 2005, when Philadelphia's Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis were honored.

"He makes my job a lot easier and I'm sure I make his job easier, too," said Whitner, who entered the NFL as the No. 8 overall pick of the Bills in 2006.

He also credited secondary coach George Catavolos, coach Dick Jauren and executive Marv Levy from his days in Buffalo, along with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell.

"When you make it to the Pro Bowl, you have to recognize that you don't make it by yourself," Whitner said.

--Iupati was equally grateful for those who contributed to his improvement since he came to the 49ers as a raw but talented small-college player from Idaho.

"I'm very grateful, and very blessed," Iupati said. "It's a credit to my teammates, especially the front line, their sacrifice, too. Credit to our coaching staff, coach (Mike) Solari, coach (Paul) Wulff and coach (Tim) Drevno for preparing us every day to go out and execute our plays."

Iupati benefitted from playing next to Staley, who was already entrenched on the left side when Iupati came along.

"He's such a great player, great teammate to play next to," Iupati said. "We work well together. It's a good thing."

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