SANTA CLARA -- Nick Bellore went undrafted in 2011, but he was Top 10 in terms of intelligence.
The 49ers inside linebacker scored 36 on his Wonderlic aptitude test in the run up to that year's draft, one of the highest marks of the 330 players who took it that season. (Teammates Colin Kaepernick and Christian Ponder scored a 38 and 35 respectively).
Bellore's brains helped win him a roster spot with Jets that year and made an impression on his head coach at the time, Rex Ryan.
"He's one of the smartest guys in the league," said Ryan, who coached Bellore for four seasons. "And the thing that I loved about having Nick is that if somebody went down, Nick was going to step right in. He could call the defense, he could run the defense and he was a good player."
But he wasn't a starter.
"Back with the Jets, he wasn't going to play over Bart Scott or Davis Harris, I can assure you," Ryan said. "But it was just comforting having that guy that could back up both those spots. I was confident that he was going to play well, he just wasn't going to play at that level."
Which makes things interesting on Sunday. Bellore's second-ever start will be against Ryan's Buffalo Bills squad.
His first game in relief of injured NaVorro Bowman was last week against the Cardinals. Bellore finished with a team-high nine tackles, but defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said the linebacker "left some plays out there on the field."
"He was a little hesitant at times to make sure, you know, he was making sure what he saw was true instead of just going and I think that as he plays more that will happen for him," O'Neil said.
Bellore agreed, saying that there were some early "jitters" but that he got into the flow as the game progressed and that he'd be better against the Bills.
He has to be. Buffalo ranks third in rushing yards per game and their top running back, LeSean McCoy, averages 5.3 yards per carry. The 49ers defense, meanwhile, has allowed four straight opponents to rush for 100 or more yards and ranks 31st in stopping the run.
Bellore and fellow inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite entered the league as undrafted free agents in 2011. And while Bellore never started a game for the Jets, he noted that he was the next man up behind Scott and Harris for some of his tenure in New York.
"I think there was a year we only carried three inside linebackers and no one got dinged the whole year," Bellore said. "Which was good, but obviously not for my experience."
Bellore appeared in 64 games with the Jets with the lion’s share snaps coming on special teams.
Said Ryan: "Nick Bellore's a good football player, there's no question. But nobody's going to think he's NaVorro Bowman, I can promise you that."