HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — The NFC Championship Game couldn’t have resulted worse for the 49ers.
Besides losing to their division rival — which propelled the Seahawks to the Super Bowl — the 49ers lost one of their most productive defenders to a catastrophic injury.
While linebacker NaVorro Bowman has said that he is ahead of schedule in his rehab from a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, his teammate and closest confidant has advised him to not rush the process and return too quickly.
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“I talked to NaVorro last week,” Willis told FOXSports.com. “I told him, ‘As much as I’m going to miss you this offseason, the most important thing you need to do is take your time and come back right.’ He’s a very talented young player and the last thing he needs to do is rush it back. Sometimes people don’t understand the biggest challenge is being patient. NaVorro doesn’t like to see his guys out there working without him. This is one of the first injuries he’s had. It’s going to be a tough one, but he’s going to be good, though.”
Head coach Jim Harbaugh said in February that he expected Bowman’s return to be “halfway through the season.” Bowman has reportedly been working with the same trainer that Adrian Peterson used when he was rehabbing from his ACL surgery in 2012.
Currently slated to fill in for Bowman is linebacker Michael Wilhoite, who played in all 16 games last season.
“Me and Michael took a lot of reps during the spring and OTA’s last year,” Willis said. “I think everything happens for a reason. He had to come in for me a little bit. He came in that Seattle game and was calm. A lot of it came from our work during the spring time. Then you have a guy like Nick [Moody], who is young and a talented player as well. He’s going to contribute on special teams and some defense as well. Whoever is out there, we’re just going to be the best we can be. Hopefully they can hold it down until NaVorro gets back.”
Willis, who was speaking in support of Amy Purdy’s video as a Duracell brand ambassador, noted that he’s been training on his own in San Jose this offseason. He’s looking forward to getting back in action with his teammates when the offseason conditioning program kicks off on April 21.
“I like the offseason program a little bit because it gives me something to look forward to,” Willis said. “It’s interesting because I get to build back up and try to exceed where I’ve been from the previous offseason.”
Willis will also be meeting with new teammates including offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, who was acquired in a trade with the Dolphins last month. Being a vocal locker room leader, Willis made it clear that Martin will be welcomed with open arms in San Francisco.
“As far as his situation and what happened in Miami, that will stay in Miami,” Willis said. “We like making everyone feel like we’re one in our locker room. That’s one of the biggest things to me and our organization the last couple of years is we’ve had a bunch of guys who care about one another. Guys who want to see each other do well.
“Him coming in will be no different to me as a rookie or a 12-year veteran. If he wants to ask me anything I’m still going to be the same person I’ve always been.