Linebacker NaVorro Bowman's MRI on his left knee Wednesday went well, as first reported by Yahoo! Sports.
#49ers LB Navorro Bowman's MRI went well. Still, there is no specific timetable for his return, per a league source.— Rand Getlin (@Rand_Getlin) November 13, 2014
Willis elected to forgo to the remainder of 2014 in favor of surgery on his big left toe with an eye on the next five or six seasons. Given that precedent, and perhaps the fact the 49ers' carry the league's second-ranked defense heading into Sunday's game against the 3-6 Giants, it wouldn't be unexpected to see Bowman go the similar route and choose to remain out this season to ensure his surgically-repaired left knee is healthy going forward.
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ESPN reported earlier in the week Bowman was still feeling pain in his knee. The question has been whether or not that was typical soreness associated with a grueling rehab process, or if there was any structural damage done. Yahoo's report indicates the knee is structurally sound, which could be the first sign of an eventual return for Bowman in the coming weeks.
Bowman is currently on the physically unable to perform list and San Francisco has not yet opened his 21-day practice window. They have until Tuesday Nov. 18 to do so, otherwise he must be shut down for the season.
Even with the deadline, the 49ers could work Bowman back at their own pace. The difference the deadline makes is it requires Bowman to take a spot on the 53-man in time for Dec. 14's game in Seattle at the latest. Even then, San Francisco will have the option to keep him off the active 46 if they choose.
Willis' injury means rookie standout Chris Borland will be playing 'Mike' linebacker for the foreseeable future. Bowman's eventual return could complicate that situation. Bowman typically plays 'Mike', but can also play 'Jack.' Michael Wilhoite is currently playing 'Jack' and makes the defensive calls with the headset in his helmet.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will be responsible for deciding which combination of inside linebackers serves his 3-4 scheme best if Bowman comes back to play. Will Borland stay in the lineup, after making 35 tackles over the last two weeks and the fumble recovery in overtime against the Saints? Will Bowman be OK with giving up his position and playing 'Jack'?
Or would Bowman replace Borland and play next to Wilhoite?
We might not know for another month or so, if and when Bowman returns to the field.
In the meantime, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is happy with the way his reserve linebackers are playing.
"Those two are doing a great job of elevating their game to the standard that NaVorro and Patrick have set around here," Harbaugh said. "I mean, they have no choice really but to do that. They’re doing a great job of getting that done.”
Fangio indicated in his weekly meeting with the media Thursday he wasn't certain Bowman would return to the field this season.
“I think that’s a possibility. I don’t know that that’s been decided or been the verdict, but I’m sure it’s a possibility,” said Fangio.
If Bowman does return, Fangio has not been made aware of when he will start practicing.
"I haven’t been kept up to date on that as far as, ‘Hey, it’s going to happen next week.’ Nobody’s said anything either way," he said.