Return of Bowman a Key Piece to 49ers' Season

If healthy, Bowman could provide an anchor in the middle of a remade defense that will be without Willis and Borland

With Patrick Willis and Chris Borland now retired, the comeback of inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman is even more crucial for the 49ers in 2015.

After missing all of last season with two torn knee ligaments suffered in the NFC Championship Game against Seattle in January of 2014, there have been worries that Bowman wouldn’t be able to return in 2015.

Lately, however, it appears Bowman is back on track for a comeback.

Recently, he posted a short video on Instagram that showed him playing basketball, and on St. Patrick’s Day he posted a weekly schedule and to-do list on the same account that listed just one word for every day of the week: “Dominate.”

That followed a report by Niners GM Trent Baalke that Bowman is “at a real good place right now” in his rehabilitation.

“I think he feels good,” Baalke told reporters. “He’s really starting to feel like it’s coming back to where he wants it. And that’s always the most important thing.”

If Bowman can come back in time to work out all of his physical and psychological kinks this summer, the 49ers will still have one of the NFL’s finest inside linebackers. It won’t be the same as having both Bowman and Willis inside, backed up by Borland – the depth obviously will be much thinner – but Bowman by himself is an elite, impact linebacker who can be the quarterback of the defense.

In 2013, some were making a case that Bowman could have been the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. Though he won’t turn 27 until March 28, Bowman already has four seasons in the league. In 2013, he was in on 120 tackles, had five sacks, two interceptions, five passes defensed, six forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Paired with returning 2014 starter Michael Wilhoite – or a veteran from free agency or a drafted rookie – Bowman can still be the anchor of a strong linebacking corps that also features Aldon Smith, Aaron Lynch, Ahmad Brooks and Nick Moody.

As Tyler Emerick of noted this week after Borland’s surprise retirement, “If Bowman is able to return to old form, absorbing the two retirements becomes a much more manageable task.”

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