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NaVorro Bowman Returns to 49ers Minicamp, Shares Health Update

Be one of the guys.

That's how NaVorro Bowman is treating the voluntary offseason program. Sure, the San Francisco 49ers star linebacker could point out that he's 15 months removed from a devastating knee injury that caused him to miss all of 2014.

Instead, Bowman chooses to see himself as another leader trying to help San Francisco avenge last year's 8-8 record.

"I'm out there," Bowman told reporters on Wednesday before the second day of the team's voluntary minicamp. "I'm putting my jersey on like everyone else and doing as much as I can do and that my knee allows me to."

Bowman said he's dealing with typical aches and pains from returning to practice, but the sixth-year linebacker also said that he's been encouraged by his progress to date.

So have team doctors.

"I'm passing all the tests," Bowman said. "My knee is still stable and holding up the way they expected. I'm working through the little aches that I have, but that's going to be there for at least another year, and I have to figure out how to deal with it."

Bowman's workload is lighter compared to other presumptive Week 1 defensive starters. Bowman said his focus is on "progressing" throughout the nine-week offseason program.

"I was happy with the movements and everything, competing in practice, being able to get through it," said Bowman, who led the 49ers in tackles in 2012-13.

Coaches have given Bowman a healthy workload in the minicamp, too.

"They allowed me to go out there and do as much as I could," the former All-Pro linebacker said. "I'm excited, still a lot of work to be done, but my knee is feeling great."

Bowman noted that teammates have seen his "anxious" approach to offseason practices. Bowman sounded like a man who is happy to do the little things, like run around on the field in a late-April practice.

"I'm getting back to learning how to practice also," he said.

Another learning curve for No. 53 is taking command of the defense without Patrick Willis by his side. Following Willis' offseason retirement and veteran defensive tackle Justin Smith still contemplating his football future, all eyes on San Francisco's roster have seemingly turned to Bowman to be a defensive leader.

Based on his quotes, it doesn't appear as though Bowman is shying away from stepping up as a leader.

"Seeing my teammates willing to take my command, and the coaches believing in me and putting me in that spot to command the defense and make sure everyone is geting on the same page - I've enjoyed that my entire life," Bowman said. "Being a linebacker, it requires you to be a leader. Being able to get back out there and do what I love doing is a great thing right now."

Bowman admitted that losing Willis was "a big hit" for the 49ers defense. But Bowman stressed that the defense must adapt to the changes in personnel and in the coaching staff with Eric Mangini being inserted as defensive coordinator.

"It's a little weird (without Patrick)," Bowman said, "but we're introducing a new scheme, new coaches, so everything is new. I think that's the great thing about it. It's all of us in this one box, and it's our job to get it the way we want to get it and perform when the season starts."

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