The San Francisco 49ers invested quite a bit in their linebacker corps this offseason. They gave free agent Malcolm Smith a five-year $26.5 million contract, and then traded into the first round two weeks ago to select Alabama’s Reuben Foster.
Foster is coming off February rotator cuff surgery, and joins a defense that includes NaVorro Bowman, coming off a torn Achilles last fall. Health will remain a question mark until both show what they’ve got on the field, but John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have said both men are ahead of schedule. I wouldn’t expect them to say they’re behind schedule, but that’s what we’ve got. It sounds like Bowman is a full participant in the offseason workout program, while Foster is expected to be good to go for training camp.
Last week, Lynch had a chance to speak about both men on SiriusXM NFL radio. The Foster discussion was about Shanahan’s comments that some misinterpreted, and was more of the same. The Bowman discussion offered a little something different. He mentioned how some question Bowman’s fit in the 49ers new 4-3 defense. I’m not sure who has said that. Anybody see any references to that?
He pointed to the Foster and Smith additions as adding competition to the position, and said Bowman did not blink when the 49ers made the moves.
"Like every other position, we’re going to let competition bring out the best in all of them. I think that will happen with NaVorro. We all know what he’s done in this league.”
He concluded by talking about some of what they’re looking for at linebacker. He made sure to say Bowman is a good player likely to win the day, but he had an interesting caveat, of sorts.
“We value length (at linebacker) and all that, but we feel the same about really good players. Kyle and I have said we’re playing a system where a lot of people who have done it well go off these measurables. We’re not going to have absolutes. Good players are going to win the day. NaVorro is certainly one of those. We’re going to let that play out.”
I could be reading this wrong, but is he suggesting Bowman does not have the length one might normally see? Or is the discussion about measurables separate from mentioning Bowman as one of the “good players?” Bowman and Foster are about the same height, and Bowman has slightly longer arms. Malcolm Smith is the same height, but I can’t find his arm length. Any thoughts thought on this?
Whether the length issue applies or not, I am not surprised the new regime would say everybody is competing. Bowman was the subject of a brief trade rumor last week, but Lynch and Shanahan quickly shot it down. If Bowman is not traded, the only thing that would seemingly be a question is how he plays off the Achilles surgery. He was viewed as undersized coming out of college, but there have been no issues with that. He has had the two leg injuries, but those have come across more as freak injuries than based on being undersized.
Bowman is sufficiently versatile in his skillset that I don’t think a switch from 3-4 to 4-3 is a big deal. It will be interesting to see if the try and rotate him out of the middle linebacker role, but for the time being it seems like he’ll man the middle in their base defense. And of course, the 49ers will likely spend more time in their sub-packages anyway, in which he has extensive experience.