After the 30-7 loss to the Houston Texans Saturday night, one might think that there are few positives to take away from the defensive performance. In reality, there was a pretty balanced display of positives and negatives. Now with week three over, the regular season is rapidly approaching and all eyes are on the first team defense.
In a game riddled with errors on both sides of the ball, the 49ers defense managed to accumulate three takeaways against the esteemed Texans offense. In an attempt to get San Francisco off to a quick start, the ever competitive Ahmad Brooks returned a Matt Schaub interception 13 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the game.
The rest of the game was plagued with inconsistency and a failure to execute.
Since I knew this was a possibility heading into the game, I wanted to take a closer look at the future of San Francisco's defense in second-year inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. Bowman has some large shoes to fill and an even bigger neck with Takeo Spikes' departure this offseason.
Bowman is set to start the season as the TED linebacker next to Patrick Willis in the 49ers 3-4 defense. This is his second year in the league and there is quite a bit on his shoulders. The former Penn State standout filled in as a rotational player behind Willis and Spikes his rookie year; listening and learning.
In his most recent outing against the Houston Texans, Bowman looked like a competent NFL starter. The first string defense looked strong, particularly in the front seven. Bowman was a part of that display, registering 3 tackles and 2 assists.
"He’s a very good football player, very talented, very athletic," said Willis about his new tackling mate. "He knows it takes more than just athletic ability to play the game. You have to know what you’re doing and that other guys are counting on you. He’s really on top of it."
The inspiring words from the already established Willis serve to confirm the growth of Bowman. Niners fans should feel more confident, that not only a perennial Pro Bowler believes in him, but the entire 49ers staff was comfortable rolling the dice on the 2nd year man in a rebuilding year.
Willis continued, "I feel I’m getting another brother with NaVorro beside me. He’s a joy to play with. The opportunity is there for us to become an inside linebacker tandem and that’s what we’re working toward."
The defensive systems San Francisco intends to emulate (Green Bay, Pittsburgh), both have a strong linebacking corps; arguably the strongest in the league. They are solid at all four linebacker positions, so the newly formed Willis-Bowman tandem could find success in the middle of the revamped unit.
Bowman showed that he could be a formidable defender against the run, but did struggle in pass coverage. Although he looked fluid in man coverage because of his athleticism, he looked inexperienced in zone.
The difficulty in zone comes from a lack of reps with it at the pro level, but he should improve under the guidance of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and playing alongside Willis. Bowman was already communicating with the other members of the defense, relaying calls like a veteran.
He could very well be on his way to becoming one of the new young difference makers on the 49ers defense. Whatever negatives you see from Bowman could be contributed to his inexperience at the pro level. He looks to be a capable contributor in the NFL but time and experience will determine the kind of player Bowman becomes.
Honorable Mention(s): Demarcus Dobbs (2 Tackles, 1 Sack, 1 TFL)
Larry Grant (2 Tackles, 2 Assists, 1 FF)
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