The 49ers are not going to rush NaVorro Bowman back onto the field.
And with the third-round addition of inside linebacker Chris Borland of Wisconsin, they have another reason to allow Bowman to take his time in his rehabilitation from a knee injury and open the season on the physically unable to perform list for at least the first six weeks of the regular season.
“How can you not love him as a football player?” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said of Borland. “Not tall enough. Not fast enough. Arms are too short. You hear all of that. We just love the makeup. We love the player. He’s everything you’re looking for from a DNA standpoint.
“He loves the game. He’s a smart player. He’s an extremely instinctive football player. He’s overcome that lack of arm length (29 1/4 inches). He’s overcome that lack of speed (4.83 seconds in the 40-yard dash) that’s being talked about. He’s just a baller.”
Borland (5 foot 11 1/2, 248 pounds) has quite an appreciation for the 49ers, too, after studying Bowman and Patrick Willis extensively during his time at Wisconsin.
“I’m very much an admirer of the way those guys play the game,” Borland said. “Bowman was at Penn State while I was at Wisconsin, so I obviously looked up to him as a young player in the (Big Ten) Conference. Then we’ve gotten a little bit of exposure to those guys and that defense when we had a switch to 3-4. We watched some of their film. We actually implemented a few things the Niners do on defense. So they’re two of the best in the league and I’m looking forward to learning from them.”
Borland, who graduated in December, joined the 49ers’ offseason program this week and figures to compete with Michael Wilhoite, Nick Moody and Shayne Skov for the opportunity to fill in as a starter during Bowman's expected absence.
“Well, I expect Bowman to make a comeback,” Borland said. “He’s a great player and it’s just still way too early to look that far. I think San Francisco’s got a proven coaching staff and a bunch of proven players on defense. So I’m just going to find my role and play whatever that is.”
Coach Jim Harbaugh also sees plenty to like about the first-team All-America selection and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
“You know he studies it because he’s already moving in directions that a person can only be moving that quickly because they had a tip, or they had a study, a film or something that the coaches had given them,” Harbaugh said. “And that really shows up in the tape. Fifteen forced fumbles, helmets knocked loose.
“He’s got a way. He’s got great hands. The way he tackles, 250 pounds. To me, my visual of it is like a bowling ball hitting pins. He’s got that kind of strike.”