NaVorro Bowman's Road to Recovery Continues at 49ers Training Camp

Delivering a hit will be the final mental hurdle that NaVorro Bowman has to overcome on his way back to regular season football.

Not just any hit will do - it has to be one that is up to the standards of "All-Pro Bow."

No. 53 said as much during his press conference Friday.

"Once I do that, I'll be ready," Bowman said.

But that doesn't mean the inside linebacker is anxious to get to that moment. Bowman explained that he is in no rush to put his surgically-repaired left knee through full contact.

"It will come," Bowman said. "I'm ready to hit, but I won't rush it."

Bowman will have three practices before the 49ers put pads on for Tuesday's session. Reluctantly, Bowman said he'd still be practicing with his dreaded knee-brace.

The linebacker wore the bulky support around his left knee during OTAs and minicamp. At the time, Bowman said that he didn't care for the brace but was told by the training staff it wasn't up for discussion.

That hasn't changed going into training camp.

"I'm going to do what the trainers say. I'm not going to be hardheaded," Bowman said. "I know they're looking out for my best interest, so that's just the main thing, to be safe. As we all know, I'm showing them all I can do a lot right now and that's exciting."

Each player was put through a fitness test on Friday which featured a heavy dose of agility movement. Bowman said his goal was to finish first in everything, which he did a few times. Most importantly for the 49ers, their star linebacker completed the entire test with no restrictions.

The media was not able to witness Bowman's workout, but head coach Jim Tomsula relayed his personal rave reviews.

"My gosh," Tomsula said. "He looked fantastic."

Friday's evaluation served as another step in Bowman's 19-month recovery process since injuring the knee against the Seattle Seahawks in the 2013 NFC Championship game.

Bowman spoke candidly about what the journey back to football has been like, and how taxing the road to recovery is from a mental standpoint.

"(It's) boring. Lonely. It's a gut check. You ask yourself if you really want to do it sometimes or if you feel like doing it," Bowman said. "The knee feels like you can't do it sometimes, but you talk to the doctors and trainers and they tell you it's good to get out there and get it moving.

"Those are the things that go through rehabilitation, just fighting through those tough days when your knee is sore, but you know the best thing is to get back out there the next day."

Bowman said he feels better than he did during minicamp and expects his progression to continue all the way up until "Monday Night Football" against the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 14. The linebacker's Week 1 return will mark the first time that he'll be starting a season without Patrick Willis standing next to him.

After missing the entire 2014 season with a severe knee injury, the 49ers All-Pro linebacker is slated to return to the field this fall. See him in action at previous camps.

San Francisco's need for Bowman's leadership on the field goes beyond filling the shoes of the retired legends Willis and Justin Smith. Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini's new scheme is far more complex than what the 49ers have run in previous seasons.

Bowman will be wearing the green-dot helmet on the field that contains the intercom unit that receives the plays from Mangini. Every call from the coordinator, Bowman said, will be three plays in one.

It will be Bowman's job to properly disseminate the information to the rest of his defense before every snap.

"That's what I live for, to lead," Bowman said. "I always strive to set examples and study like a coach. I want to be coach's voice on the field. That's who I am. I'm a defensive guy. I love flying around and getting everyone on the same page.

"There are a lot of young guys on this team with a lot of talent. They understand the shoes they have to fill and the type of football that the 49ers play. I'm excited to see it."

Tomsula said he's going to monitor the linebacker's reps during training camp. A "pitch count" is the exact phrase the head coach used. Regardless, all signs point towards Bowman being back to 100% when the regular season begins.

"I'm very excited to get back out there doing what I love to do," Bowman said. "It's been a long time coming. I've put in a lot of work and I'm just glad to be able to play the game.

"I'm on pace. I'm right where I want to be. I'm happy."

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