49ers Linebacker NaVorro Bowman is already making plans to celebrate the end of his grueling rehabilitation process.
Friday afternoon, the three-time All-Pro told reporters he might just set fire to the brace that the 49ers medical staff are requiring on his still-recovering left knee, injured during the 2013 NFC Championship game in Seattle.
Bowman showed his ability to push his injury into the back of his mind as he recorded his first interception of camp on Friday, a pick in the end zone of Colin Kaepernick.
Though the speed of OTAs is considerably slower than what Bowman will face in the regular season, his ability to make reads on the ball is a promising sign. The recovering linebacker will be asked to play an integral part in the 49ers new-look defense following the retirement of both Patrick Willis and Chris Borland.
The pick caught the eye of new head coach Jim Tomsula, who is excited about what he sees out of Bowman early on:
“It’s great. It’s NaVorro, first of all. So, I mean, it’s great having him back out on the field. Then also the road he’s traveled here in the last year and a half. It’s just awesome to have him out there and I think he’s really enjoying himself.”
After surgery to repair his ACL, Bowman has been on a mission to return to his former, formidable form. While the 27-year old star admitted on Friday he is still not quite there at the start of OTAs, he has no doubt that he will one again terrorize opposing players who step onto his side of the field:
“No doubt… The knee will get there, and it will get to where it needs to be. Maybe not as fast as you guys expect, but I’m definitely going to get back to that level.”
At this point in his rehab, Bowman said the road to recovery is less about overcoming pain and more about overcoming mental hurdles that come with returning from a near career-ending injury:
“I’ve been doing everything man. Just thinking fast, trying not to worry about the knee. And I think that’s the biggest challenge, going out there and executing all the plays, and not pay too much attention to my knee because it is safe, it does feel good. And I’m excited about that.”
“When you’re out there in 11-on-11s or 7-on-7s, you’re reacting off different guys. And that’s the challenge, to just not think about it and play ball. So the drills, I’m passing that with flying colors, but I’m not reaching the point that I want to get to yet.”
Bowman’s participation in Saturday’s practice will mark his fourth consecutive practice this week, yet another encouraging sign that his knee is physically rounding into shape ahead of what is sure to be a challenging season.
But despite the reassuring progress, Bowman knows his fight is far from over:
“It hasn’t been consistent. I go out there some days and I feel great and some days I have to fight through it. That’s part of the process, I understand that, but mentally it messes with me sometimes. But just to get out there and do something is always good for the knee, and as long as I keep doing that it will get used to it, knowing I want to get back out there and play football.”
Fans of poetry may find symbolic meaning in Bowman’s desire to torch his knee brace. It may represent his fiery will to return, or play off of the legendary Phoenix’s rise from the ashes.
But for Bowman, it’s about erasing all indications of the career-altering hit. Even if that means creating a funeral pyre for a seemingly harmless metal object.