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 the New York 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.”
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But he wasn’t a starter.
“Back with the Jets, he wasn’t going to play over Bart Scott or David Harris, I can assure you,” said Ryan. “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 start of his career will be against the Buffalo Bills, now coached by Ryan.
His first game in relief of the injured NaVorro Bowman was last week against the Arizona Cardinals. Bellore finished with a team-high nine tackles, but 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said the linebacker “left some plays out there on the field.”
“He was a little hesitant at times ... 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 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’s fellow inside linebacker, Michael Wilhoite, also entered the league as an undrafted free agent 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 most 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.”