When NaVorro Bowman went down with a knee injury in the NFC Championship against the Seattle Seahawks, it seemed to suck the life out of the San Francisco 49ers. Bowman made an amazing play in which he stripped the ball out of the hands of a Seahawk receiver at the goal line. Unfortunately, he was injured in the process of making this play. Once the referees ruled that the Seahawks would keep possession of the ball, it almost felt as if all hope had been lost. The 49ers then proceeded to keep fighting and were able to recover a fumble on the next play. Even though they came up just short at the end of the game, the team showed that they can still fight without one of their best players.
The 49ers’ defense is used to playing without some of their best players. Players like Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, Ray McDonald, and Tarell Brown all missed time last year. Even with a number of key players missing, the 49ers defense was still able to play like one of the best defenses in the league.
Obviously Bowman will be missed for the first half of the season, but his absence will not suddenly plunge the 49ers’ defense into the cellar of the league. The 49ers have a healthy competition at ILB this off season, with a few solid players competing for his starting spot. Michael Wilhoite has experience starting, as he started in Patrick Willis’ place while Willis was injured. Chris Borland and Shayne Skov are promising rookies that both have to potential to be solid replacements.
Patrick Willis is one of the best linebackers in the entire league. Up until a couple years ago he was unanimously considered the best, but with the recent influx of elite talent like Bowman and Luke Kuechly, it’s not so clear. The point is, Willis is more than capable of picking up the slack left by Bowman and whoever his replacement is. The middle of the defense will never be a significant weak spot as long as Willis is there to anchor it.
Bowman is an elite player that any team would benefit from having, but the 49ers’ defense have enough talent and depth to weather his absence. The defense is capable of playing at a high level despite not having Bowman.