Remember when NaVorro Bowman playing in the preseason was such a big deal?
It feels like so long ago that the All-Pro, Pro Bowl linebacker's return to the defense was the most discussed storyline for the San Francisco 49ers.
Flash forward 12 months, now the focus has shifted to who will line up next to Bowman as the weak-side inside 'backer in Jim O'Neil's scheme.
The 49ers will get another opportunity to evaluate a three-way competition between Michael Wilhoite, Gerald Hodges and Ray-Ray Armstrong this Friday night when the Green Bay Packers come into town for the "dress rehearsal" preseason matchup.
Bowman said he didn't mind if the competition continues past the Green Bay game, or into the regular season for that matter.
"I communicate with all three guys about the same," Bowman said. "Coach is going to put the best guy out there. If the competition runs through the first game, guys just have to deal with it.
"It's early. We have to find the right group of guys. It's just part of the process."
San Francisco's linebacker rotation next to Bowman has not impacted the overall success of the defense. Through two games, the Bowman-led unit has only allowed one touchdown.
According to the NFL's reigning tackling leader, the group has greatly improved throughout the offseason.
"You can see that," Bowman said. "We're starting to talk a lot more. When you first start off, guys don't want to be wrong, so it's real quiet out there. Guys don't want to do their jobs. It takes a lot of communication to be good and get where we need to get to.
"We're definitely taking those steps."
The next step will come against the Packers and their superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The two-time league MVP is expected to make his 2016 preseason debut against the 49ers.
In order to succeed in the third preseason contest, Bowman wants to see the 49ers tighten up their run defense. The lone touchdown scored on the 49ers starting defense was a 19-yard rush by Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson on the game's opening drive.
View every player currently on the San Francisco 49ers 2017 90-man roster.
Bowman pointed to the unit needing to play team defense and not freelancing to make plays.
"Some of the plays aren't meant for you to make," Bowman said. "You become good when everybody understands that. It was something small, minor, but it caused a huge void in our defense. We learned from it and hopefully it doesn't happen again."
San Francisco's defense could also be strengthened by the returns of defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, who both sat out last week's win in Denver. Armstead, in particular, has yet to make his preseason debut due to a lingering upper-body injury.
Both former Oregon Ducks, however, have been full participants in practice this week. Bowman sounded eager to build on-field chemistry with Armstead, an expected starter on the defensive line.
"He's definitely been in it with his mind, and now he's back out there participating," Bowman said. "It's better to have him out there. Hopefully he gets to go."
A veteran like Bowman understands that Friday's contest one of the best ways to assess the defense going into the regular season.
"We know that in the third preseason game we play a lot more as starters," Bowman said. "I'll get in that mindset that there's a real game going."