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SANTA CLARA – Just like he did last season when pass-rusher Aldon Smith was out of action for five games, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is receptive to the idea of replacing All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman with more than one player.
“You could see where there could be an inside linebacker playing in base and one playing in nickel that are two different guys,” Fangio said Friday. “All possibilities are open.”
The 49ers expect Bowman to miss half of the season due to the torn left ACL he sustained in the NFC Championship game. Bowman is on the physically-unable-to-perform list, where he is expected to remain to open the regular season. If Bowman starts the season on PUP, he’d be ineligible for the first six games of the regular season.
“(He’s) doing running, looking forward to doing some cutting,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of Bowman. “That’ll be next in that process.”
Patrick Willis has moved to Bowman’s “mike” linebacker position. Michael Wilhoite is working at the “jack” position with the first team. But Fangio said he will consider just about any combination that, of course, includes Willis.
“We know Willis is going to be in there,” Fangio said. “And he can play either spot. We’ll put the next-best guy in there.”
Rookie Chris Borland appears best-suited to play the “mike” position, Fangio said. So Willis could move back to “jack.” Also, undrafted rookie Shayne Skov is in the competition, along with Nick Moody.
Moody and Wilhoite played the safety position in college, so they could find expanded roles in the 49ers’ nickel defense while Bowman is out of action.
Last season, Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier replaced Aldon Smith while he was out for five games while seeking treatment for substance abuse. The NFL is expected to make a ruling by the middle of training camp whether Smith will receive any additional discipline. He is expected to have a meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the near future.
Last season, Willis missed two games while Smith was out. Wilhoite filled in admirably in two 49ers victories.
“We know Bowman is going to miss more than two games,” Fangio said. “So at times it’ll be challenging. Any time you lose two great players, somebody has to go in there and do the job. We don’t expect those guys going in there to be as good as those two guys are. They’re at the top of their profession. But we’ll find a way.”