NaVorro Bowman is an astute linebacker. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out. How else could you explain the 24-year-old defender becoming an All-Pro linebacker in his first year as a starter in the National Football League?
But that's exactly what happened to San Francisco's third-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Brains, plus extreme talent helped the third-year linebacker lead the 49ers in tackles last season. Bowman's 173 tackles knocked fellow All-Pro Joe Staley into second-place on the tackling sheet for the first time of his 49ers career.
On Wednesday at 49ers Training Camp presented by HP, Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio listed a number of reasons why the 6-foot, 242-pound 'backer broke out against the opposition in 2011, but said it was Bowman's intelligence that enabled the impact.
"He's a good athlete," Fangio began. "He's got really good movement. He's athletic enough to be a good player in pass defense. He's strong enough against the run. He's a really good tackler, both against the run and the pass. He does a really good job of tackling.
"He's good in the open field. You guys saw some plays from him in the open field where he made some tough tackles. I would think it's his athletic ability, but he is 240 pounds. He can go in there and slug it out in the trenches.
"He's very versatile as a linebacker."
So versatile, Bowman recorded double-digit tackles in all but five of San Francisco's combined 18 regular season and postseason contests. Bowman added 27 tackles in two playoff games.
So how does Bowman reach the next level? Attack the mental side of the game.
Same goes for Willis, who finished last season with 121 tackles and 12 pass breakups while covering some of the league's top tight ends.
"They have a lot of improvement both can make individually," Fangio admitted. "They'd be the first to tell you that. We'd like to improve their blitz ability, we'd like to improve their understanding of coverages – how they fit with each every route progression that they have to defend.
"They both have a lot of work to do which is good. They're both young enough and still on the upswing of their careers." According to Fangio, Bowman's going to be fine continuing his upswing.
"He understands football," the respected defensive coordinator said. "Some guys understand it better than others and he understands it. You can talk to him at a high level when you're teaching him. He can imagine what you're talking about and feel it and understand it."
Bowman and Willis have also joined defensive line meetings in training camp to get a better feel for the linemen's technique. In doing so, San Francisco's inside linebackers are finding their way to the ball even faster. They've also spent the opening special teams period of practice working directly with defensive line coach Jim Tomsula and his players.
Bowman said it's been a critical development to the feared duo improving in all areas.
"It slows everything down," Bowman said of Tomsula's hands-on instruction. "He's talking to us in a way we can understand, whereas when everyone's together, it goes so fast."
That's a scary thought when considering a 49ers defense with Bowman and Willis as its starting inside linebackers allowed their first rushing touchdown in the second half of their fifteenth regular season game in 2011.
That said, Bowman's not being complacent. If anything, he knows there's more to work on. That's why he attacks the mental side of the game in the perfect time of the year: training camp.
"I'm a guy who loves to learn," Bowman said. "I don't think I know everything. I feel like I can learn something every day when I step out here on the practice fields. That's how I approach everything and if you approach things like that, you get better as you continue going on."