SANTA CLARA (AP) — NaVorro Bowman walked off the practice field after working out with the rookies and gave a thumbs up and a smile.
The three-time All-Pro linebacker is healthy and back on the field at last after missing all of last season recovering from a left knee surgery following a gruesome injury in the NFC championship in January 2014. So much so that coach Jim Tomsula no longer thinks of the fierce defender as someone coming off an injury but rather just a key veteran in the mix.
“To be honest with you I didn’t know he had an injury,” rookie linebacker Eli Harold said. “Looking at him he looks like a bowling ball. He’s so passionate. I can’t wait to learn from him.”
San Francisco’s rookies kicked off a weekend minicamp Friday with some veterans such as Bowman taking part for a portion of the practice. Next week, the entire roster will have organized team activities.
“Bowman’s looking great,” Tomsula said. “I’d say we’re more treating Bo like a vet than we are treating Bo like a post-injury guy right now.”
First-round pick Arik Armstead signed a four-year contract Friday.
The defensive lineman, selected 17th overall, did not take part on Day 1 because he still needed a physical, but was expected in uniform Saturday for meetings, workouts and practice. He had been back at Oregon finishing up some classes.
The status of another key defensive lineman — veteran Justin Smith — is still uncertain. Everybody is waiting to hear whether he will return for a 15th NFL season. He turns 36 in late September. Tomsula said he hasn’t seen Smith or spoken to him, though Smith has been around the facility and in nearby San Jose.
“That time will come,” Tomsula said. “We’re not trying to make it a saga, we’re really not. We’re getting a lot of guessing when this is going to go, when that’s going to go. We’ll know here. It’s getting to the time where you’re going to have to know something.”
During Friday’s practice, general manager Trent Baalke watched the rookies and took time to shake hands with several of them, such as third-round pick Harold.
Later, Harold fist-bumped wide receiver Issac Blakeney and patted cornerback Kenneth Acker on the shoulder as they went through blocking drills.
The 6-foot-6 Blakeney, a former tight end at Duke, is one of five undrafted free agent wideouts.
“You look at those things, the interaction, the way they work, the way they interact in drills, the way they interact after a play talking to each other,” Tomsula said.
At the end of their day, when Bowman, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the veterans might be long gone, the rookies meet as a group for a final hour for classes through the team’s player engagement program.
On Thursday, they went through media training by asking each other mock questions, and on Wednesday they took a tour of the museum at Levi’s Stadium to learn some of the history of a franchise that won five Super Bowl championships in the 1980s and 1990s. Tight end Busta Anderson sent photos of statues in the museum to his family.
Rookie punter Bradley Pinion thought the Q-and-A session was helpful, and they asked Mike Davis questions, though he joked that nobody asked him anything good.
“All of us guys have gotten really close. We were having fun with it,” said Pinion, who noted his last name is pronounced, “Opinion without the ‘O.’”
Former Australian League rugby star Jarryd Hayne is making an impression, too. His good hands were on display catching punts, and Tomsula made a point to greet him with a handshake during practice.
The 27-year-old Hayne decided last year to give up his career in the Australian National Rugby League to chase his NFL dream across the world. He will compete for a job as a running back and return man on special teams.
“Did you see him catching those punts? It’s a little easier catching a football than it is a rugby ball,” Tomsula said. “The wind gets that rugby ball and that thing’s zig-zagging all over the place.”