In August, NaVorro Bowman reported to Santa Clara for the start of training camp. Bowman freely admitted he was not yet 100%, and still healing from the devastating ACL injury he suffered in the 2014 NFC Championship Game—an injury which caused him to miss all of last season. The 49ers coaching staff went to extreme degrees to protect the linebacker, such as analyzing how the turf at stadiums San Francisco visited on the road during the preseason would effect his knee.
“Some of the young guys didn’t even know I was hurt coming into training camp,” Bowman said. “That was a good sign for the way that I was moving.”
He still admits he isn’t the same player he was during the epic run he had from 2011-13, when he was named first-team All-Pro. Further, he admits he isn’t the same player he was the day his knee was nearly torn to shreds, but he hasn’t allowed that to stop him. In the 49ers most recent loss against the Bengals, Bowman recorded 12 tackles; the beast is still alive inside of him. He’s had at least seven tackles in 12 of 14 games for San Francisco this season.
For all of this, Bowman was named to his third Pro Bowl selection on Wednesday. With just two games remaining in a fruitless 49ers season, there is no doubt Bowman has been a ray of sunshine for the team both on the field, where he’s currently second in the league with 135 tackles, and in the locker room.
Being forced to spend a year away from the game, and come back without Patrick Willis, allowed Bowman to hone other skills most players may not have the time to fine tune. He knew after undergoing reconstruction on his knee, his athleticism would never be the same, and with father time catching up, Bowman sought necessary to reinvent his game.
“I’ve always studied the game the way that I should, always approached it, prepared the way I should. That’s, I think, one of the levels that gets you to three Pro Bowls and things like that. It’s not all about the athletic ability,” Bowman said Wednesday. “I try to relate to the guys that are coming up, trying to accomplish things like this. You have to really get the coach’s mindset inside of your game. That’s the level I think I improved on while I was sitting out of the game.”
He’s been the unquestioned leader of San Francisco’s defense this season, and his coaches have taken notice. Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini often asks Bowman to address the team’s unit the night before game day.
“On Saturday nights I’ve had him speak a little bit,” Mangini said. “Just a great message — not just in terms of the short-term — but the longer-term and bigger picture. Selflessness. Whenever you put someone up in front of the group, you don’t know what they are going to say. You love hearing them as a coach and you love hearing the sincerity from that player.”
But perhaps his largest impact on the team is one made without words. Defensive tackle Quinton Dial spoke on how Bowman’s play on the field is possibly the biggest inspiration for the unit.
“He doesn’t say a whole lot,” defensive tackle Quinton Dial said. “He lets his play do all the talking. But I feel like when he needs to step up and say something he will.”
David Barclay is a San Francisco 49ers Insider for byteclay.com. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @DJamesIII