NaVorro Bowman is eligible to be back on the 49ers’ practice field next week, but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said the inside linebacker’s return will be considerably later than that.
“Oh, I think at some point he will play,” Fangio said today on KNBR’s “Murph and Mac” show. “But right now it’s still later than sooner. His procedure was done in February. It’s not like he got hurt in the middle of the season last year.”
Bowman, who was the 49ers’ best defensive player last year, suffered ACL and MCL injuries during the team’s loss to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 19. Fangio said Bowman has had no “roadblocks” in his recovery and is ahead of schedule.
Still, there’s no reason to rush Bowman’s return from the serious knee inury. The 49ers rank second in the NFL in yards allowed per game, and Bowman’s replacement, Michael Wilhoite, has played well through five games. Fangio said that even after Bowman is activated, which can happen between Oct. 14 and Nov. 24, he will need time to adjust to playing again.
“He’s going to need a couple of weeks of practice, too, to get his legs under him and to and feel comfortable playing on his legs,” Fangio said.
It’s likely that another linebacker, Aldon Smith, will be back before Bowman. Smith is serving a nine-game suspension and is eligible for the 49ers’ Nov. 16 game against the Giants.
“I asked him how’s he’s doing with his conditioning and fitness. He says, ‘I’m the most fit guy in this building’ he told me,” Fangio said of Smith. “So he seems to be doing well along those lines. We’re looking forward to his return down the line.”
The transaction hasn’t been submitted to the league office yet, so it’s not official. The 49ers would have to release a player from their 53-man roster, and there is no word yet on who will be let go.
The 49ers’ special-teams units have been inconsistent since coach Jim Harbaugh and coordinator Brad Seely arrived in 2011. They were excellent that year, but slipped the following season, which included a kickoff return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
The following season, they brought in veterans Kassim Osgood and Ventrone, who tightened up the coverage. Osgood returned this season, but Ventrone and another specialist, C.J. Spillman, were let go to make room for younger players.
Through four games, the 49ers have allowed 23.9 yards per kickoff return and 14.8 yards per punt return, tying for worst with the Miami Dolphins in that category. The 49ers gave up an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown to the Eagles’ Darren Sproles on Sept. 28, and the Chiefs’ De’Anthony Thomas nearly had such a return Sunday.
“Well, we’ve got to do a better job,” Harbaugh said Monday. “We’ve got to do a better job of covering those punts. Need a little more hang time. And that’s always been our best unit. We’ve set records around here on the punt team. … So we’re extremely capable and I know we’ll get it done.”