San Francisco 49ers

Bowman unfazed about competition, guarantees he’ll start for 49ers

NaVorro Bowman said he won’t be the odd-man out in the 49ers’ linebacker competition in 2017.
NaVorro Bowman said he won’t be the odd-man out in the 49ers’ linebacker competition in 2017. jvillegas@sacbee.com

NaVorro Bowman’s offseason has included a rehabilitation from yet another major injury, watching the 49ers sign one inside linebacker to a big-money deal and draft another in the first round and, most recently, a rumor that he’s on the trade block.

His reaction: barely a yawn.

The veteran linebacker on Tuesday was decidedly unfazed about the tumult at his position and was confident that when the season begins he’ll be where he normally is – at the center of the 49ers’ defense.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “I’ll compete with anyone, whether he’s 21 or 35. It doesn’t matter. I’m a guy who’s going to give my best effort and have full confidence in my abilities to play this game. … There’s always a competition. There’s always someone trying to take your spot. As a player, if you keep that in mind, you’ll always put in the work that’s needed.”

When the free-agency period began in March, the 49ers made Malcolm Smith their marquee addition on defense by signing the former Raider to a five-year deal that included $11.5 million guaranteed. The following month, they traded back into the first round to select Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, someone they considered the third-best player in the draft.

Why pour all those resources into the same position?

During the early part of free agency, Shanahan said, the 49ers were unsure how smoothly Bowman would return from his injury. And they had no idea at the time that Foster was going to be available to them at the end of the first round.

In the two months since, Bowman has bounced back more quickly from his Oct. 2 Achilles tear than they expected. In fact, Shanahan said it was hard to tell the linebacker is only 6 1/2 months removed from the injury.

“He looks like the guys I’ve seen on tape over the years,” he said.

During Tuesday’s OTA practice, Bowman lined up at middle linebacker with the first-team defense with Smith next to him at weak-side linebacker. Foster, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, has been held out of most portions of practice but is expected to be back in full when training camp starts in late July.

The 49ers want their inside linebackers to be able to play both middle and weak-side linebacker, Shanahan said, but so far Foster mostly is concentrating on the weak-side spot.

Earlier this month, former NFL executive Mike Lombardi said that Bowman was one of the NFL veterans who was being dangled as trade bait during the draft. The 49ers sent out a release at the time saying that wasn’t true, and Shanahan on Tuesday said no teams even called to inquire about Bowman’s availability.

General manager John Lynch called Bowman to refute the report. Shanahan said he planned to do the same but that Bowman said it was unnecessary.

“After he talked to John about it, there was nothing to worry about,” Shanahan said. “He understood it all and realized it wasn’t the truth.”

Shanahan said the situation now is simply one that leaves the 49ers in an enviable position: having three very good options at inside linebacker. He said one of those players will be on the sideline when the defense takes the field against the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 10

Said Bowman in response: “I won’t be on the sideline, I’ll tell you that right now.”

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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