As a veteran and former All-Pro and Pro Bowler, 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman wouldn’t be expected to get much playing time in the exhibition season.
There’s no sense risking injury to a key player on San Francisco’s defense this season.
Yet as 49ers report for the start of training camp Thursday, Bowman is at a different place in his career than in years past. For the first time in a long while, the former third-round pick from 2010 is going to have to show his new coaching staff and general manager that he’s completely familiar with a new defensive scheme by Game 1 of the regular season.
Bowman, 29, has been a fixture at inside linebacker for the 49ers since 2010, and has been a starter since 2011. But he’s coming off an injury in 2016 that allowed him to play just four games and he’ll need to learn to play middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
So, get ready to see Bowman in some exhibition games this summer.
“In the preseason, we expect to play him,” said general manager John Lynch, to a writer from the team’s website. “We need to see what we have as a team, and NaVorro is a part of that.”
Bowman’s ability to adapt – and to stay healthy – will be key to how the San Francisco defense comes together. First-round pick Reuben Foster is expected to contend for an outside linebacker job, but could be best suited for middle linebacker. Veteran Malcolm Smith, acquired as a free agent from the Raiders, can play outside or inside.
“If Bowman has a setback in his second major comeback in three seasons, the 49ers can turn to hot-shot rookie Foster, whose surgically repaired right shoulder will get its first true test in camp,” wrote Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group this week. “Smith, an expert in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s scheme, is poised to start alongside Bowman, but Foster could impact that. (Ray-Ray) Armstrong and (Brock) Coyle must prove they’re more than depth options.”
This spring, Bowman – who is coming back from a torn Achilles’ tendon suffered in October – said he’s “hungry” for the new challenge.
“I’ve been out of the game since Week 4 (of 2016),” he said. “So any accomplishments I’ve had before, none of that matters. I’m back to proving myself and getting back to that level and guys were saying, ‘What are you on? How are you moving like this so early?’ I’ve put the work in and I think God will bless me with a great season this year.”