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Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Saleh: NaVorro Bowman’s absence on passing downs not a knock on his coverage skills

Aug 29, 2017 at 1:58 PM--

Against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, rookie linebacker Reuben Foster was in on every defensive snap during the first half of play. Meanwhile, veteran linebacker NaVorro Bowman also played the entire first half but came off of the field in passing situations which saw the 49ers bring on a sixth defensive back.

Bowman was in on only 24 of the defense's 35 first half snaps but saw action when the 49ers had two linebackers in during dime packages, which only required five defensive backs.

49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh met with the media on Tuesday and discussed Bowman's role during Sunday's 32-31 loss to the Vikings. Saleh addressed the fact that Bowman came off of the field during obvious passing downs and when the 49ers had a sixth defensive back in the game.

"That won't be all the time," Saleh said. "It's preseason. Wanted to try some new things. Another opportunity to get the rookie some reps. Thought the package looked cool. It could easily be Bowman in there. It could be Reuben. They could rotate. But, again, it's our job to make sure we get the best 11 on the field at all times and, yeah, he's a major competitor. At halftime, he was giving me some good ideas of how to make that thing evolve even more. I love Bowman so that's not something that is set in stone."

Saleh went on to state that the 49ers' dime package is not a knock on the linebackers' ability to cover on passing downs but more a testament to the abilities of safety Jaquiski Tartt, who the defensive coordinator called a "pretty darn good football player."

Saleh went on to say the coaching staff has been so impressed with Tartt since he came back from a rib injury suffered early in training camp, that they are looking for ways to get him on the football field. Sometimes, that will mean having only one linebacker on passing downs.

The coaching staff doesn't feel that Bowman's ability to cover has diminished and Saleh pointed out that the All-Pro linebacker was in on coverage in previous preseason games.

"He can cover," Saleh said. "He covered against Kansas City. He covered against Denver. Like I said, it was more of a testament to Tartt to try to get him on the football field. The third preseason game, there's wasted reps if you look at it but could you still see that same group against Carolina? You could. Could you see it with Bowman? You could. It just depends on the things that we need to do to put our guys in the best position to be successful."

Bowman is returning from a torn Achilles suffered last October. Through four games played last season, Bowman had 35 tackles, a sack, an interception, a forced fumble, and two passes defensed. While his 251 snaps are a small sample size, Bowman still ended up as the team's highest-graded player in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus.

Saleh also said that having a number of players who they want to get into the game is a good problem to have and the coaching staff has to be creative in finding ways to get Bowman on the field more.


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