Leaner, lighter, healthier and humbled, Nick Bosa rolled into 49ers training camp this summer with a determined approach and straightforward response to the devastating injury that put a slam-into-the-wall halt last season to his fast-track progress as a rising superstar.
“There’s really no other option but to come back better,” Bosa said.
Not better, as in get well. Better, as in superior to the Nick Bosa of 2019 that took the NFL by storm and played a major role in taking the 49ers all the way to the Super Bowl.
That Bosa steadily grew into one of the NFL’s brightest young stars before everybody’s eyes, developing into an impact player that was so dominant against Kansas City in Super Bowl LIV that Bosa would have been in the discussion for game MVP had San Francisco held on to a 10point lead with fewer than seven minutes to play.
Bosa settled for NFL Rookie of the Year honors — regardless of position — becoming the first San Francisco player ever to earn that honor. He also won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors with one of the best debut seasons ever by a San Francisco rookie and one of the greatest performances of the 21st century by an NFL rookie defender.
We repeat all the hype of Bosa’s first season here because that’s the lasting image most have of the robust defensive end. He didn’t get a chance to build on it when his much-anticipated encore sophomore season became a bad memory by Week 2 and one of the worst things to happen to the 49ers during a 2020 season when a whole heck of a lot went wrong for the team.
“You come off 2019 and you’re on top of the world, and you start off well in your next season,” Bosa said a few days into training camp in late July during his first news conference with 49ers media since blowing out his left knee midway through the opening quarter of a September victory over the New York Jets.
“And,” Bosa continued, “it’s all taken away really quickly.”
The loss of Bosa to a torn ACL was one of the biggest blows to an injury-plagued 49ers team that took more hits in 2020 than a punch-drunk boxer. The San Francisco defense continued to play up to high standards, finishing the season ranked No. 5 in the NFL in total defense, but the lack of a strong pass rush without Bosa was one of the team’s most glaring weaknesses in a 6-10 finish.
Which gives the 49ers renewed hope regarding how much better an already good defense — and overall team, for that matter — can be in 2021 with Bosa back to his beastly ways on the edge after an extended offseason of getting his body in the best condition it can possibly be.
And, with his brawny 6-foot-4 frame appearing at training camp even more chiseled and defined than before, Bosa definitely looked the part after passing his physical and receiving the green light to join his teammates on the field again for the first time since that fateful Sept. 20 visit to the unforgiving turf at New York’s MetLife Stadium.
“I mean, Nick takes care of himself, and better than anyone I’ve ever been around,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I mean, the guy has got a one-track mind and it’s awesome. So you knew he’d come in great. And now it’s just about, you’ve got to know how much time it’s been since the injury.
“Him moving and looking like the player he is, (that) isn’t an issue. It’s just about building it up the right way. So when he gets out there with 22 people, he can react and feel safe if he gets caught in an awkward position. Obviously, we’re going to ease him in and stuff. So we’ll take our time with him and be smart.”
Taking a little more time before he can return to his life’s work is fine with Bosa after the nearly full year of rehabilitation and recovery he has endured.
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EIGHT IS ENOUGH
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STOCK UP STOCK DOWN
DEOMMODORE LENOIR | AMBRY THOMAS
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In the weeks that follow after you read this — and perhaps sometime even sooner than that — Kyle Shanahan and the rest of the 49ers organization will make a titanic decision that will have present, future and perhaps even everlasting implications for the franchise. It will chart the course for the team’s pivotal 2021 season while determining whether San Francisco really does have the juice to return to powerhouse status and again be considered a legitimate contender to get back to the Super Bowl.
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Fred Warner vaulted to stardom with a spectacular 2020 season — and the 49ers rewarded him this summer with a $95.225 million deal that makes him the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history. By today’s standards, Warner’s performance last year was worth the money as he posted an Approximate Value of 19 — matching the highest score ever recorded by a San Francisco defender according to a Pro Football Reference formula that puts a single number on each player-season across all positions since 1960. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman (twice) also had seasons with an AV of 19 as they dominate this list of the greatest individual seasons by a linebacker in 49ers history.
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