San Francisco 49ers

NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith on hand as 49ers learn new defense

Aldon Smith, who had just two sacks last year, says he is refocused as the 49ers offseason begins
Aldon Smith, who had just two sacks last year, says he is refocused as the 49ers offseason begins The Bee

NaVorro Bowman was on hand for the start of the 49ers’ first minicamp practice this week. Perhaps more significant, he said, he was on the field for the end of it as well.

Bowman on Wednesday reported some soreness a day after his first session since tearing his ACL and MCL in January of 2014. But the 49ers linebacker was decidedly upbeat at the prospect of taking part in a full offseason after a year of rehabilitation.

“I was happy with the movements and everything, completing the practice, being able to get through it,” he said. “The reps weren’t limited too much. They allowed me to go out there and do as much as I could. I’m excited.”

Bowman said he was experiencing some “little aches,” but “I’ve been fighting through it since it happened, and that’s what I plan on continuing doing.” Bowman lined up next to Michael Wilhoite with the starting defense during the session.

The story line for the 49ers this offseason has been the departure of key players, including linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, both of whom retired last month. But the team also is ostensibly getting two linebackers back for a full season – Bowman and Aldon Smith, who was suspended for nine games last year and who finished with only two sacks in the seven games he played.

Earlier this month, general manager Trent Baalke said Smith seemed hungry to get his career back on track. Said Smith: “I think maybe he’s referring to the way I’m attacking this. If anything, I’ve always had the same mentality. But it’s all coming together now and ... maybe I’m where he thinks I should be and where I want to be. And things are looking good.”

After four successful seasons under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the 49ers defensive players are learning a new system under Eric Mangini. Smith said some concepts are the same – the 49ers will use a base three lineman, four linebacker defense, for instance – but there’s an entirely new vocabulary.

“So far it’s going good,” Smith said. “It puts everyone in position to make plays. We have some different things that we’re working on and doing.”

Smith also may have to adjust to playing next to a new teammate. Justin Smith, his partner for the past four seasons, is contemplating retirement. Justin Smith has not taken part in the team’s ongoing minicamp.

Bowman, meanwhile, won’t line up next to Willis, who has patrolled alongside him since 2011.

“That’s an opportunity for a few guys who are here to make a name for themselves,” Bowman said. “I’m willing to open up and show them whatever I have to give them and make this the best team we can have.”

Kap’s delivery One of the critiques of Colin Kaepernick during the draft process in 2011 was that he had a long, looping delivery. He worked on changing that this offseason, and it is apparent that the 49ers quarterback has altered the motion.

Kaepernick is not getting rid of the ball as quickly as Aaron Rodgers, of course. But he seemed to hold the ball higher and his delivery Wednesday was more efficient than it’s been. The change in motion hasn’t appeared to take any speed off his passes. He was still throwing a “heavy” ball to his receivers and his zip was notably faster than that of Blaine Gabbert, the only other quarterback on the roster.

Et cetera – Guard Alex Boone was one of the players absent from Wednesday’s voluntary session. Boone, who is heading into the final year of his contract and wants a new deal, plans to sit out all of the team’s voluntary practices. The first mandatory session is a June 9-11 minicamp.

▪ Bowman wasn’t the only injured defender who was back on the field. Nose guard Ian Williams, who suffered season-ending leg fractures in each of the past two seasons, also was on hand. Newcomer Darnell Dockett is still rehabilitating the ACL injury he suffered last year.

▪ The starting cornerbacks for Wednesday’s session were Tramaine Brock and free-agent acquisition Shareece Wright. The 49ers are expected to take a cornerback at some point in the upcoming draft.

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