Warren Little/Getty Images
The one good thing that came out of Takeo Spikes missing his final game with the San Francisco 49ers was the fact that we got to see NaVorro Bowman start, and he performed extremely well.
It was week 17 of the 2010 season. The 49ers were out of the playoff race after a crushing loss to the St. Louis Rams the week before. Mike Singletary had just been fired and all seemed bleak for the red and gold.
Alex Smith was making what many people believed to be his final start as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. Jim Tomsula had taken over on an interim basis and the 49ers future seemed as dark as the weather on that January day.
One good thing does come out of rebuilding, you get to see young players step up.
This is exactly what NaVorro Bowman, a rookie third round pick from Penn State, did.
The 49ers destroyed the Arizona Cardinals 38-7 in that game and the defense dominated. The Cardinals ran for 78 yards on 22 carries, while Bowman was in the middle of most of the action. He ended the game with 8 tackles and anchored the middle of the front seven in the absence of both Takeo Spikes, and Patrick Willis.
Prior to the 2010 draft, Bowman was projected to be a first round pick. He was coming from "Linebacker U", had played extremely well over the course of the last couple seasons, and had all the physical tools to dominate at the next level.
Bowman, who left Penn State after his junior season, would compile nearly 200 tackles, eight sacks, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles in his final two seasons in college.
Off-field issues caused Bowman's stock to plummet following a successful 2009 campaign
The following is from Todd Sponsler at pennlive.com
Linebacker Navarro Bowman is already on probation for disorderly conduct, stemming from an on campus fight. Court sources tell WJAC that Bowman recently admitted to Centre County probation officials that he has smoked marijuana, at least twice, since December.
After a couple run-in's with the law, Bowman fell to the third round of the 2010 draft, where the 49ers traded down with the San Diego Chargers to acquire his services. An interesting anecdote from that trade is that San Francisco picked up a 2011 fourth round selection that they would eventually swap in order to trade up for Colin Kaepernick.
Bowman would be asked to move inside in the the 49ers 3-4 defense. Some would have expected a huge learning curve and tremendous struggle his rookie season, but it really didn't happen.
Now, he did struggle in pass coverage and recognizing offensive formations, but that is to be expected. However, Bowman ended up being a regular rotation player for the 49ers during his rookie season.
He ended the year with 46 tackles and saw extensive action in at least 12 of the games.
This season, Bowman will be asked to pair up with Patrick Willis in the middle of the 49ers linebacking crew, which should cause tremendous headaches for opposing offenses.
You are talking about two of the most physically gifted inside linebackers in the game complementing one another on what they do good. Both are extremely fast, have a nose for the ball, and can blow up the backfield within the matter of a second.
The fact that Bowman will be playing opposite the best defensive player in the NFL cannot hurt either. Teams are going to have a hard time accounting for him when they see Patrick Willis on the field. This means that you see Bowman running free a lot in 2011, which isn't a good sign for offenses.
He has a great knack for the ball and is a physically threatening presence. Speed is huge when it comes to this position in the 3-4 defense. If the offense is unable to initially account for Bowman, he will be able to make unimpeded plays on the ball carriers and quarterbacks.
Moving forward, I expect the duo of Willis and Bowman to be one of the best in the entire NFL.
In fact, it may happen sooner rather than later.