SANTA CLARA -– Linebacker NaVorro Bowman returns to the 49ers this season as a better player in one important aspect.
Bowman said he believes he has a better understanding of the game after missing all of last season as he went through an arduous rehabilitation of his left knee, which was severely injured in the NFC Championship game in January 2014.
“I had a whole year to sit back and see it from a coach’s view, and you just want to stay in it,” Bowman said Sunday night after he recorded three tackles in his only three snaps of the 49ers’ 23-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in an exhibition game at Levi’s Stadium.
“You don’t want to seem like you got it all or know it all. You just try to better yourself. I think that’s what the greats do. They find ways to learn in different ways, not just as a player. That’s what the year off gave me. I just want to show that I’m a student of game and not just player.”
Bowman did not wait long to demonstrate his thinking process, as he made a big hit on Cowboys running back Darren McFadden for a one-yard gain on the first offensive play of the game.
“I just wanted to make a play,” Bowman said. “We have a triangle that we read. It was one of those things where I thought it was the right play to just shoot the gap and try to make a tackle for loss.”
After teaming up with Nick Moody to throw McFadden for a one-yard loss on the next play, Bowman won the battle of wits against Dallas quarterback Tony Romo on third down.
“Yeah, I was just baiting Tony to make him think I was blitzing the A gap, thinking he had that running back free out there on the edge,” Bowman said.
Romo threw to running back Lance Dunbar on the left side, a play that Bowman sniffed out immediately. On the third-and-10 play, Bowman tackled Dunbar for a 1-yard loss.
And just like that, Bowman’s night was over.
Coach Jim Tomsula said he was going to limit Bowman to five plays or a three-and-out series –- whichever came first.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who watched the series from the sideline, described Bowman’s brief appearance as “expected.”
“To see him step out there and be his old self is what we're seeing in training camp,” Kaepernick said.
Bowman sat out the first padded practice of training camp, but has not missed another day of work since he reported at the end of July. Tomsula decided to postpone Bowman’s return to game action for a week when he opted to sit him out of the 49ers’ exhibition opener last week at the Houston Texans.
Bowman admitted to being emotional before taking the field for the first time in 19 months.
“It felt right to give the fans the first look at me because they do so much for us, and we appreciate them,” Bowman said. “And it’s the preseason, so we kind of had a choice.”