Bears vs Niners: Five Questions with Niner Noise

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October 5, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Patrick Willis (52) during player introductions before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Levi

2. The mass exodus of 49ers players this past offseason has been well documented. Which player is missed the most? Who has had to step up to fill one of those vacated spots?

Part of me wants to say defensive end Justin Smith, but he wasn’t playing at the same caliber in his final season. Linebacker Patrick Willis is an obvious choice, and the interior of the 49ers defense hasn’t been the same since. It could have held its own had linebacker Chris Borland stayed in the NFL. Linebacker Michael Wilhoite, who served as Willis and NaVorro Bowman‘s primary backup, perhaps isn’t suited for a starting role, which is likely why the 49ers traded for Gerald Hodges. Hodges hasn’t seen too many reps yet, but he’s an upgrade right now.

The dark-horse most-missed player has to be right tackle Anthony Davis. He retired suddenly and stated he’d be back in a year or so. The retirement was something the 49ers didn’t plan for during the draft. So now the 49ers are stuck with right tackle Erik Pears, who was supposed to be a swing-tackle backup.

Go look at the O-line woes on Pro Football Focus. You’ll see what the current results have been. And I’m a big believer in an O-line being the starting point for any franchise looking to find continuity. This unit affects everything.

Next: Going Kaeping?