SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Don't call it a comeback. Call it a pair of comebacks.
The 49ers will have their three-time All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman in the lineup after spending the last 19 months rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, also a three-time first-team All-Pro, is returning to the field for the first time since missing the majority of last season after being charged with child abuse.
"This is a (running) back that you want to face, just to see if you’re back at the level of where I was at," Bowman said Friday.
That level Bowman mentioned was atop the league, when he earned defensive player of the year consideration in 2013 before losing out to Carolina's Luke Kuechly, despite, arguably, having the more impressive season. Bowman helped the 49ers reach their third straight conference title game that year, before he tore his left ACL and MCL in the second half against the Seattle Seahawks in January 2014.
Peterson played in 2014's season opener before his charges stemming from hitting his son with a switch came to light. He was placed on the commissioner's exempt list, missing the next 15 games, marking almost exactly a year since he saw the field.
"Just kind of anticipating that first game Monday night. But it’s almost here now. So that’s a good feeling, you know?" Peterson said. "The mind is getting ready. The body is ready. So just looking forward to that Monday night."
Peterson, 30, is third among active running backs with 10,190 yards rushing over his eight-year career. He's 3-0 against the 49ers, running for 174 yards on 58 carries.
"He has a motor," Bowman said. "He’s a hard runner and you could tell he’s trying to get every single yard there is to get out there. That’s one of things that I think we love as fans, just to see a running back giving his all every single play and that’s what he does."
But this 49ers defense is vastly different than what Peterson faced in years passed. Gone this offseason were stalwarts Justin Smith and Patrick Willis, and recently Aldon Smith, who signed with the Raiders Friday after he was released by San Francisco Aug. 7.
Bowman and Ahmad Brooks are the only 49ers defender left from the defense that played in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2012 season. It will be Peterson's first game action this year after sitting out Minnesota's five-game preseason slate.
"I’ve been on the other side of Adrian Peterson a few times," 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said. "I’ve watched a ton of film on him, as has our staff. He’s a very talented football player. Extremely talented. Adrian Peterson does a great job, but he’s also in a schematic that emphasizes the things that he does and he’s got some other players around him that help him."
That schematic is designed by former 49ers offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who spent 2006 in San Francisco orchestrating an offense featuring Alex Smith and Frank Gore, both in their second seasons. Gore had a career-high 1,695 yards rushing in Turner's offense before he bolted to take the head job with the Chargers. Smith's 2,890 yards passing were a career high before Jim Harbaugh became head coach in 2011.
Bowman's long journey back to the field included plenty of doubt. Lingering soreness in his knee prevented him from feeling fully confident until midway through this recent training camp.
He skipped the first preseason game in Houston before playing the first three plays against the Cowboys, when he made three tackles, including one for loss. That day he wore a brace on the repaired knee.
In Bowman's next outing against the Broncos, he played the entire first half, making a game-high nine tackles, including two sacks of Peyton Manning. The knee brace was gone, indicating Bowman is ready to complete his full comeback, which he spent time reflecting on over the last few days.
"It’s really about my family, man," said Bowman, who has three kids. "They have so much support in me and what I’m doing. There so excited just to see me back out there on the field. I’ve just been reminiscing about that Monday night, knowing my family’s watching me and I want to go out there and give them a show."
Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
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