The San Francisco 49ers kick off the 2015 NFL regular season on Monday Night Football, on September 14. That game. means San Francisco is now a mere 31 days away from kicking off its 2015 regular season. In the spirit of that approaching date, I thought I would steal this idea from our Oakland Raiders site.
Who wore it best: SS Donte Whitner (2011-2013)
The number 31 does not have much of a history with the 49ers franchise. Offensive lineman Charlie Shaw wore it in 1950, and then it was not worn again until 1978. Strong safety Chet Brooks did some quality work from 1988 to 1990, hauling in three interceptions in 1989 as a starter on that Super Bowl squad. Zack Bronson was never a big name, but did some decent work at times from 1997 to 2003. And of course, cornerback Dre Bly sported the jersey in 2009.
But the best belongs to the last significant wearer of the number. Donte Whitner joined the 49ers in 2011 after starting his career with the Buffalo Bills. Whitner had actually been reported to have a deal done with the Cincinnati Bengals, but a change of hear landed him in San Francisco.
In three seasons with the 49ers, Whitner was named to two Pro Bowl squads. He was known for his big hits, which while usually legal, still managed to draw the ire of officials. I lost count of the number of times he was flagged for an illegal hit, only to have the league absolve him when it came time for a fine. His repeated penalties were a perfect example of why the league should have instant replay on personal foul penalties.
Who wears it now: S L.J. McCray (2014-present)
The 49ers signed McCray as an undrafted free agent following the 2014 NFL Draft. He managed to secure a roster spot out of training camp as a special teams contributor. He is listed as a safety, but his first year was spent almost entirely on special teams. He is competing for safety opportunities, and will eventually need to show something there if he is going to stick around for the foreseeable future. Special teams coach Thomas McGaughey mentioned him as one of a few potential core special teams players, but that kind of role often creates uncertainty if a player does not bring anything else to the table.