San Francisco 49ers

49ers LB NaVorro Bowman ready to earn his starting spot back

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Go ahead, make NaVorro Bowman compete to earn his starting spot back after a devastating Achilles injury.

Sure, throw his name out as being on the trading block.

Even tell the four-time All-Pro linebacker and longtime leader of the San Francisco defense that one talented player at his position will likely be the odd man out in a matter of months.

“I won’t. I won’t be on the sideline, I’m going to tell you that now,” Bowman said Tuesday following practice as part of a 49ers organized team activity.

San Francisco signed inside linebacker Malcolm Smith in free agency and drafted another in Reuben Foster at 31st overall last month out of Alabama, prompting new coach Kyle Shanahan to make a courtesy call to Bowman in case he wanted to talk things over — not that Bowman needed any reassurances. He appreciated the gesture nonetheless, went back to some offseason golf, and they never have gotten around to the discussion.

Earlier this month, general manager John Lynch called to let him know he wasn’t being shopped around to other teams despite reports otherwise — and the 49ers publicly denied the rumor.

“The only trade discussions we had was when another team asked us about Vance (McDonald) on draft day,” Shanahan said Tuesday. “And after a team asked us about Vance then we asked other teams if they’d be interested in that same thing. When it came to NaVorro or any other player on our team, no one’s asked and we haven’t either.”

Not much can bring Bowman down these days. He’s been through it all in recent years.

He tore the anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee during the NFC championship game in January 2014 then later underwent surgery for the ACL tear. He missed all of 2014 then came back with a spectacular 2015 during which he led the NFL with 154 total tackles.

Then Bowman tore his left Achilles tendon during Week 4 last fall, his second major injury in less than three years. He suffered the non-contact injury in the third quarter against Dallas on Oct. 2. He had to be helped off the field and was taken by cart to the locker room.

“I’m a man of challenges,” Bowman said. “I overcome whatever comes on my plate. It doesn’t matter what you think of me, it’s about what I think of myself and how hard I work. When I go down, it’s up to me whether to get back up.”

Now, at last, he is back to full strength and pushing himself and everyone around him on the field.

“That’s what I do, man,” said Bowman, who turns 29 on Sunday. “It’s always good to just lead guys and be an example of how everything should work, how you should play as an NFL player. I think guys are really honing in on creating an identity on the defensive side the way that we need to play. The last couple years have been rough, so we’re really focused on bringing back that identity.”

Bowman believes he has the support of Lynch and Shanahan as everybody makes the transition to a new regime following last season’s 2-14 debacle.

While the 49ers will keep a close eye on Bowman so he doesn’t overdo it at this early stage, he has been impressive already in his latest comeback.

“Anytime you’re coming off an Achilles you’re waiting for him to ease into it, and from what I’ve seen just watching him, I would have never known that just by watching him,” Shanahan said. “He looks like the guys I’ve seen on tape over the years.”

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