SANTA CLARA – Linebacker NaVorro Bowman still does not see the three-time All-Pro player he has became accustomed to self-evaluating on film.
“Not yet, but I’m satisfied with how much work I’ve put in and how far I’ve come,” Bowman said.
Bowman’s first two weeks on the 49ers’ practice field this summer have been encouraging. But he still has a distance to travel as he looks to regain the form that made him one of the top defensive players in the game before his horrific knee injury in the NFC Championship game at Seattle in January 2014.
He said he likes the way he’s been able to change direction while in coverage against tight ends and running backs.
“But there are still hurdles I need to cross,” Bowman said. “I’m going to keep working until I get there. But it’s looking up for me.”
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After coach Jim Tomsula said earlier in the week that he expected Bowman to play Saturday against the Houston Texans in the 49ers’ exhibition opener, it appears they have decided to wait at least another week. That seems to be just fine with Bowman, who said the first game does not necessarily pose a mental barrier in his comeback for him to immediately overcome.
“I’ve kind of hit the hurdles out here in practice,” Bowman said. “But, of course, games are different. I’ve been pushing myself. I’ll get out there when I’m ready and when I feel that it’s time to go. I don’t want to just go out there for two or three plays. I want to really get out there and do something. So I’ll decide what game that is and go from there.”
In addition to getting back physically, Bowman also has to make mental adjustments to keep up with the new defensive scheme under first-year coordinator Eric Mangini.
It’s possible Bowman will be asked to show even more variety in his game to create havoc, such as coming on frequent and varied blitzes. The first signature play he made during camp was a quick spin move, pivoting on his surgically repaired left leg, to whip around guard Marcus Martin for a would-be sack during the first practice of camp.
“It requires you to do a lot of things,” Bowman said of the new 49ers’ defense. “It’s something different that we haven’t been used to in years, but we’re putting the work in. The coaches have been really patient with us in learning this scheme. We have a good mix here. He understands it’s a lot, but when we get it, we’ll be a damn good defense. I’m glad about that.”
Bowman was held out of the first day of 49ers padded practice during camp. But that’s been his only day off since reporting. Bowman even took part in a live scrimmage period in practice Sunday to knock off some rust.
“I made three good plays when we just started,” he said. “Guys said when it’s live I come around because maybe I was a little timid when we're just practicing. When coach said it was a scrimmage, I had a little bounce in my step. I must’ve looked good to my teammates.”
But Bowman does not fully believe he has arrived. After outperforming Patrick Willis in three consecutive seasons to become the player widely viewed as the 49ers’ best defender, Bowman expects a lot out of himself after a full season away from the game.
“I have high expectations,” he said. “And when something doesn’t go right, it’s not an excuse for my knee, but it’s just what it is. I know what it is that causes me not to make that play or not get to that point. I just have to keep working.”
In the meantime, the questions will continue. Bowman does not mind giving status updates on his physical condition because he has every reason to be proud of how hard he has worked to get back on the field after sustaining what looked to be a career-threatening injury.
“You guys ask these questions because you know what I’ve been through,” Bowman said. “You remember the injury. It was a tough injury. To see me running around is a blessing. For me to get back to that level I was at, that’ll be even more of a blessing. These questions should keep coming because I’m watching my knee every day and you guys are, too.”