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49ers starting defense features virtually entire starting unit

The 49ers got most of their starting defense on the field against the Chargers, and the difference is striking.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers are back in action in their third preseason contest, and the best news thus far is the return of most of the defensive starters. The 49ers starting lineup saw the return of Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Ian Williams, Patrick Willis, and Tramaine Brock. The team is playing without Antoine Bethea due to his concussion, although he is believed to be recovered from the injury. And of course, NaVorro Bowman is sidelined.

Here is how the starting defense looked on the first drive:

LDT: Ray McDonald
NT: Ian Williams
RDT: Justin Smith
OLB: Ahmad Brooks
ILB: Patrick Willis
ILB: Michael Wilhoite
OLB: Aldon Smith
CB: Tramaine Brock
FS: Eric Reid
SS: Craig Dahl
CB: Chris Culliver

The 49ers will have Bethea back for the start of the season, but otherwise, that is probably the starting defense you will see Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys. Michael Wilhoite has been competing with Chris Borland, but all indications are Wilhoite will handle the role next to Patrick Willis. We could see some Borland and/or Moody as well, but odds are pretty good Wilhoite handles the bulk of the carries.

This group gave up some yards on the first drive before forcing a punt. The Chargers second drive started at the San Francisco 14, but the 49ers defense did a great job stopping them on a third and short, and again on four and short. Yep, this defense looks just a little bit different with the starters.