Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes form one of the savviest and most physical sets of inside linebackers in the NFL. But Spikes is 33 years old, heading into his 13th NFL season out of Auburn. The 49ers need to groom a replacement, not to mention give Spikes breathers and form a backup plan for injuries.
Maybe Matt Wilhelm or Scott McKillop will emerge as the third man. Or maybe it will be Navorro Bowman, whom the 49ers selected in the third round out of Penn State. Bowman is 6-2, 240 pounds, and quick enough to have played on the outside at Linebacker U.
Niners director of player personnel Trent Baalke talked up Bowman’s speed as well as his ability to fight through traffic. The linebacker looked fluid in pass coverage in videotape Baalke showed up last week.
The Press Democrat caught up with Bowman at the three-day minicamp that ended with Sunday-morning meetings. Here are some Qs and some As.
How do you see yourself fitting in here?
Bowman: “Right now, they think I can play, and that’s a good thing. For them to think I can fit into their defense is just making me work a lot harder. And I enjoy the older guys and what they do, and what Coach Singletary likes to see in his linebackers. So I mean, just taking everything right now, trying to learn from it and trying to decrease the mistakes that most rookies make.”
Looked like they used you in a variety of ways at Penn State…
Bowman: “They used me to the max, in different ways where they used my athletic ability to the utmost. I’m blessed to have that talent to play all the positions, whether it’s inside or outside. The 49ers think I can do both.”
But are you focusing on ILB for now?
Bowman: “I’m gonna focus on inside for now. They see me fitting that the most, and I’m excited about it. I haven’t really played straight inside backer since high school, and I felt like I could’ve done it in college. And for them to have this confidence in me, I’m really excited about it and gonna give it 100 percent.”
Why did you play outside at Penn State? Were they taking advantage of your speed, or did they have a greater need there?
“I think a little bit of both. We played a 4-3 defense and we had a lot of great linebackers at the university, and I guess they felt more comfortable with me being on the outside and making plays on the edge of the offense.”
Are you comfortable dropping into pass coverage?
“I love dropping into coverage, blitzing, breaking on balls, whatever. I love the game of football, and just love being around the ball to make plays.”
Have you followed Patrick Willis’ career much?
“No. But I’ve heard that he’s a great linebacker, and I watched a couple games on him, but really haven’t sat down and studied things like that. He’s playing in the NFL, so he has to be a good linebacker, and I plan on learning as much as I can from him to make me a better linebacker.”
Does it appeal to you playing for a Hall of Fame linebacker in Singletary?
“Sure it does. He’s gonna bring out the best linebacker that’s in Navorro. He knows what he wants, he knows what it takes to be successful at this level, and I’m glad to have him as a coach also.”