San Francisco 49ers star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman is one of the NFL’s best defensive players, and the 49ers will sorely miss him for about half the season despite the fact that they have enough talent at ILB to get bye. Rookie Chris Borland is a talented player and Michael Wilhoite looks like a capable replacement (Wilhoite is favored to start, partially thanks to his experience), but Bowman is such a transcendentally great all-around LB that his coverage, playmaking, blitzing, and active run defense will all be missed in varying degrees.
According to the Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows, the “smart money” is for Bowman to return to the 49ers lineup sometime after the Week 8 bye, and it looks like he’ll likely be back in time for the team’s Week 9 game. The 49ers have the depth and willingness to ease key starters into things, as they definitely didn’t rush No. 1 receiver Michael Crabtree last season. Bowman is better and more important, but he should be ready to play at a high level upon his return.
The Week 7 and 9 games have been tabbed as possible return dates for Bowman, but it makes far more sense to rest him through the bye. Provided everything goes well in his recovery from a gruesome ACL tear, Bowman should hit the field after the bye. A reserve/PUP list trip will be in order before the start of the regular season in order to clear a roster spot, and I wouldn’t expect him to be activated until around the bye week.