Editor’s note: Insider Matt Maiocco will analyze each position group leading up to 49ers training camp. The full squad reports on July 30 with the first practice scheduled for July 31.
NaVorro Bowman had a successful return last season from a devastating knee injury that sidelined him for the entire 2014 season.
Bowman unofficially led the NFL with 154 tackles, but he was not the same dominant force that propelled him to three consecutive first-team All-Pro honors. Meanwhile, the competition for the other starting job at inside linebacker is shaping up as a three-way battle.
Can Bowman get closer to his pre-injury form?
Bowman did not miss a single practice during the 49ers’ entire offseason program, and he appeared to be far ahead of where he was physically at this time last year. “I’m chasing to have a better year than last year,” said Bowman, 28. He might not ever get back to where he was before the injury due to a lot of factors, including a supporting cast that’s not as star-studded. But Bowman should be more explosive and capable of making big plays.
Who will line up next to Bowman?
Wilhoite, who started all 28 games in which he appeared the past two seasons, probably enters as the favorite. But this is mostly a new coaching staff, and Hodges will get a long look, too. And then there’s Armstrong, who worked his way into the mix with a strong offseason program. Ultimately, the 49ers might opt to mix and match, depending on the opposition and each player’s strengths and weaknesses.
Who makes the team based on special teams?
The most likely candidate is Bellore, who has already carved out a five-year career based on his ability and willingness to play special teams. He led the 49ers with 15 special-teams tackles last season. Skov is battling for a roster spot, too. In order to make the team, he will probably have to show more in that phase of the game.