There have been many surprises so far in the 2011 NFL season. Surprises like the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions winning games, the Philadelphia Eagles struggle and most recently, the trading of Carson Palmer to the Oakland Raiders. One of the biggest unspoken surprises in the league so far is 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman out-tackling All Pro teammate Patrick Willis.
6 weeks into the 2011 season and Bowman has solidified a spot in the NFL's top 5 for tackles, and first on the 49ers ahead of Willis. In 6 games, Bowman has racked up 56 tackles, almost a whole games worth more than Willis' 47. Between to the two of them, it gets easier to believe that the 49ers still haven't allowed a rushing touchdown this season.
Off his most recent game against the Detroit Lions, Bowman finished the game with 14 tackles -- the week before, Willis had 18 tackles. These guys are absolutely dynamite to watch in action, and Bowman is starting to recognize the impact he's having for the 49ers.
"Having the ability and opportunity to play next to Pat [Willis] and to have Takeo [Spikes] in my first year. Those guys have really helped me get comfortable at this level...just really trying to be more of a student of the game," said Bowman, giving credit where credit is due. Bowman not only has the talent and work ethic to be successful in this league, but he has the character.
The departure of Takeo Spikes worried a lot of 49ers fans who were wondering if Bowman was the real deal or not; I think everyone's minds have been put to ease. Bowman is the real deal and is only continuing to get better: "I still have work to do. I don't think I'm the best linebacker I can be yet. So, next week I'll try to get better than last week and keep going with the mindset to get better to help my team out."
The ascension of Bowman has made Willis' job easier and is making for one of the more frightening inside linebacker tandems this league has seen in some time. Right now, Bowman is making it difficult for 49ers beat writers to ignore. His performance, like a lot of his teammates this season, has been beyond expectations.
I believe he really began to attract attention when he made two key third-down stops on a scrambling Michael Vick at Philadelphia. And that has been a recurring situation in which he has excelled; in third down scenarios. He looks eager to make a play for his teammates on third down, and seems to honor the ideal of getting off the field.
Bowman has been the ultimate team player and vital to the success of the 49ers being one of the top ranked defensive units in the league. He hasn't been a liability in coverage and it doesn't get a whole lot better than him when it comes to stopping the run. He seems to have a natural ability to plug holes and stop the runner in his tracks.
Being Patrick Willis' tackling mate doesn't hurt his progression as an efficient tackler either. He wraps up well and pursues the ball carrier with great angles and fluidity. What is great is that we've seen tremendous play by not only Bowman and Willis, but Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith as well. All four men are in their 20's, and could potentially become one of the fiercest linebacking units in the game.
This team is headed in the right direction, and it is largely due to the philosophical approach to build a team of 53 NaVorro Bowman's or Patrick Willis'. These are talented individuals with great work ethic and character that will take them far in this profession -- "gold star" guys as coach Jim Harbaugh would categorize them. Watch the progression of #53 because he is a star in the making.
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