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Bowman returns to 49ers defense
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SANTA CLARA (AP) — San Francisco’s opener tonight will mark 603 days since All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman saw meaningful game action for the 49ers.

In his last game, Bowman was carted off the field in Seattle in the second half of the NFC Championship game in January 2014 after suffering a career-altering left knee injury.

Bowman tore his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament on a goal-line run after a teammate fell into his leg. The opener Monday against Minnesota will be the 27-year-old’s first regular- season game in Levi’s Stadium, which opened last season with the three-time All-Pro sidelined.

Bowman’s first test: All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings.

“This is a back that you want to face, just see if you’re back at the level of where I was at,” Bowman said.

With so much time between games, Bowman was able to reflect on his journey with his loved ones.

“It’s really about my family, man,” said Bowman, father to three children. “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.”

Bowman was a central figure in a defense that led the 49ers to three straight conference title games and a Super Bowl appearance, earning first-team All-Pro nods in those three seasons.

“You’re looking at a guy who’s been there, done that for a while now, played at a high level,” defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey said. “Everybody looks up to him in that way.”

Bowman might have been at the top of his game in 2013 before his injury, when he was a candidate for defensive player of the year, which went to Carolina’s Luke Kuechly. Bowman’s campaign was highlighted by an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown late in a win over the Falcons, which wound up being the final touchdown scored in Candlestick Park.

“Bowman, he’s a different kind of a guy,” third-year defensive tackle Quinton Dial said. “He’s one of those guys that just has it. I’m just happy he’s on my team and he’s playing behind me.”

With Bowman unavailable in 2014, the 49ers finished 8-8, leading to parting with then-head coach Jim Harbaugh. However, the defense held up in his absence, ranking fifth overall.