Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman is the best player on the San Francisco 49ers. That statement is one I've made more than once this offseason, but it's one that always had an asterisk on it, because it hinged on an "if." Given the severity of the injury he sustained in 2013, nobody quite knew whether or not he'd return to form.
Thus far, Bowman has seen action in two preseason games and while we can't quite definitively state that he's recovered 100 percent -- this will be a question for as long as the 49ers keep being asked about Bowman's reps and his health -- he did look quite good in both games.
Saturday's game against the Denver Broncos was especially solid for Bowman. He had a pair of sacks early, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. He had seven solo tackles and nine total tackles and he just looked as fast and dominant out there as I remember him. Check it out:
That was the first sack. Peyton Manning goes down before Bowman gets there because he knows he's about to take a big, big hit -- Manning is very good at that in the preseason -- and he had no receivers to dump off to as all the routes were taking longer to develop. I think the Broncos might have wanted to take a shot at the end zone on that play, but Bowman secured that sack. It wasn't to be his last:
The Broncos had a running back to chip the blitzing linebacker but, you know, Bowman was the fastest player on the field on the play and he sacks Manning again. This time, Manning doesn't get down in time and Bowman brings him down, but he also doesn't hit him unnecessarily hard, which is a nice thing, at least from where I'm sitting. I've had to write about too many preseason injuries over the years. Still, he gets the sack and there was no way anything was going to stop him from it.
I'm not going to break down every Bowman tackle on the day but I think this one was his best. He tracks the play from the beginning, makes his way through multiple blockers and delivers a big hit on the running back to prevent him from picking up the first down. You can also see a low, dirty block on another 49ers player as well -- you hate to see that kind of thing. Still, this was a great tackle and it's vintage Bowman.
It wasn't all perfect. Bowman played well, but I wonder if there was some miscommunication on the next play. At the very least, I'm going to fault Michael Wilhoite for willingly taking on this blocker and not even attempting to get around him. I understand Wilhoite's assignment on the play was probably to ensure the next guy can get the running back, but when you engage a blocker with the back right behind him, you should at least make an attempt at also trying to get to the back, who is within reach. Wilhoite takes one guy out of the play, which ideally for a 49ers inside linebacker is not enough.
It wasn't a bad game for Wilhoite, though. As a whole I think he was a little slow and rusty -- he squared up before every contact and it was very obvious what he was going to do -- but he did make a few solid plays. He tackled hard, which I like, and below you can see one of those tackles, a pretty good play all around:
I like this play a lot for the whole defense. Wilhoite was excellent at the start of last season, but some feel he got "exposed" as the year went along. I don't think that's the case, I think he just wore down a little bit and if he can shake off the rust I see no reason he and Bowman can't hit the ground running in Week 1 and be as dominant on the inside as we're used to from 49ers linebackers.