How Will the 49ers Replace NaVorro Bowman?

It won't be easy.

But the San Francisco 49ers will have to move on without All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman in the lineup this Thursday night against the Arizona Cardinals.

Bowman's season-ending Achilles injury is a tough blow to the 49ers defense. But the show, as they say, must go on.

"It's obviously a huge loss for our defense," coordinator Jim O'Neil said on Tuesday. "Any defense would miss his play-making ability, (and) his presence on the football field. We're confident in the guys in that room to be able to step up."

O'Neil said he expects Bowman will remain a big part of the team going forward in his usual leadership capacity.

"He'll continue to take that role for us off the field, but he's a guy we'll definitely miss on the field," the DC said.

The on-field leadership will have to be filled by veterans at every level of the defense. Safety Antoine Bethea, cornerback Tramaine Brock, linebacker Ahmad Brooks and defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey are the longest tenured players at their respective positions.

"I'm going to keep being the same player that I've been," said Bethea, who is second on the team with 28 tackles. "(I'll) play with the same enthusiasm that I'm playing with. If I need to say something, I will say it. If guys approach me with questions, I'll be there. I'm going to be the same leader I've been as if Bow was here and keep doing what I need to do."

The team hasn't named a starter to fill in for Bowman. The options at both inside linebacker spots will be a combination of Nick Bellore, Michael Wilhoite, Gerald Hodges and Shayne Skov.

Bellore entered last week's loss against the Dallas Cowboys as Bowman's understudy.

The six-year veteran, who has made a living on special teams, could very well make his first NFL start against the Cardinals.

"We'll have to rally together," Bellore said. "Things will be different defensively, we just have to overcome him not being in there. We just have to step up. It's time for guys like myself and the linebacking room as a whole to step up."

The matchup against Arizona pits San Francisco's 32nd-ranked rush defense against the 14th-ranked rushing offense. The Cardinals feature second-year rusher David Johnson as their bell-cow back.

"He's doing a good job in both phases of the game, running the ball and being a receiver," Bethea said. "(He's an) explosive player. He's doing what he does."

Johnson has 510 yards from scrimmage this season (300 rushing, 210 receiving) with three rushing touchdowns on the year.

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is a question mark to play after sustaining a concussion in Week 4. If Palmer is unable to play, San Francisco's top task against Arizona will be stopping the run

"We've got to do a better job," O'Neil said. "It's something we did a great job of all through preseason and then the first game of the year and then the last two games, we've missed more tackles which has been uncharacteristic of our defense.

"We've got to emphasize the heck out of that in practice, just how you finish every play. … It's something that we're spending time on and we did a lot of good things, but we're still letting those two or three big plays are getting out of us and that's what we've got to take out of our game."

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