Within a week in March, the 49ers lost one inside linebacker who had been to seven Pro Bowls and another who, in just eight starts last season, led the team in tackles.
But despite Patrick Willis’ and Chris Borland’s sudden retirements, the 49ers have played it cool at the position. They signed a few inexpensive free agents in the offseason but otherwise have stood pat.
That’s partly because NaVorro Bowman is making steady progress from the knee injury that wiped out his 2014 season. Bowman made several nice plays at training camp Sunday, including one in which he knifed between the right tackle and right guard to stop running back Reggie Bush in the backfield.
The 49ers also have been happy with their young players. One of them, Nick Moody, has been lining up next to Bowman with the first-team defense while Michael Wilhoite – the only 49ers linebacker to start all 16 games last season – recovers from a muscle strain. Moody made two eye-catching interceptions last week and nearly caused another Sunday when he leaped to tip a mid-range pass from Blaine Gabbert. Safety Antoine Bethea seemed to make a diving takeaway, but officials ruled the ball hit the ground.
“I’m excited to see him in these preseason games and see where he is because what he’s done in practice so far has stood out in a really positive way,” defensive coordinator Eric Mangini said of Moody. “I want to see how that translates into games, his reactions and things like that.”
Others also have flashed ability, including Shayne Skov and Desmond Bishop, who have been lining up with the second-team defense.
Skov, who played at Stanford, was especially impressive in Sunday’s practice in pass defense – he broke up two passes, one of which was intended for tight end Vernon Davis – and as a tackler.
During a rare “live” tackling drill at the goal line to end practice, Skov darted across the line of scrimmage to haul down rookie running back Mike Davis for a 1-yard loss.
“I think Des Bishop has done a really nice job. Shayne Skov has done a really nice job,” Mangini said. “Both those guys are excellent communicators, have leadership ability, do a really good job of getting the group lined up and adjusted out.”
End with a bang – Jarryd Hayne finally received a true introduction to NFL tackle football during Sunday’s goal-line session.
The Aussie tailback provided the offensive highlight when he took a handoff, moved to his right, broke free of an arm-tackle attempt by safety L.J. McCray and was slammed at the goal line by linebacker Steve Beauharnais and defensive end Kaleb Ramsey. Despite all the contact, Hayne got his the upper half of his body into the end zone for the touchdown.
“I thought that one was pretty rugby-esque,” said offensive tackle Joe Staley, who was watching from the sideline. “It was kind of lateral, kind of bumping off people. I’ve seen very few clips of rugby, but that’s probably what it looks like.”
Et cetera – Reggie Bush had his busiest practice of training camp, including a touchdown on a swing pass from Colin Kaepernick.
▪ Tank Carradine was back after missing two sessions because of an illness. Fellow defensive lineman Quinton Dial, however, missed practice because of a sore knee. Tony Jerod-Eddie mostly filled in at right defensive end.
▪ The 49ers will not practice Monday as mandated by the league’s collective bargaining agreement, which allows players days off during training camp.