49ers happy to see Nick Bosa at voluntary OTAs

Nick Bosa never quite got his footing last year, as he went from 18.5 sacks in 2022 to 10.5 last season. Steph Chambers/Getty Images

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- For multiple reasons, organized team activities have rarely been on San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa's offseason agenda.

Whether it's because of COVID-19 shutting down such activities in 2020, recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee in 2021 or the lengthy contract holdout of 2023, late May Bosa sightings in Santa Clara have been few and far between.

Which is why his presence at this year's voluntary proceedings has made Niners coaches and teammates sit up and take notice.

"To show up Phase 3, practicing on the field, it's pretty special," quarterback Brock Purdy said. "For all of us to see that, it's like 'All right, if Bosa is taking it serious, then we all should.'"

It's no coincidence Bosa is back earlier than normal. There are no pandemics, no significant injury rehabs. And he signed a five-year, $170 million extension just before the start of last season that made him the highest-paid defender in the league.

Given the lack of mitigating circumstances and Bosa coming off what he has described as a season below his standards, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan called Bosa earlier in the offseason and asked him to leave behind his usual routine in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to come back to participate in the on-field portion of the offseason program.

"I love Nick being around, love him getting a chance to do football with the guys and stuff," Shanahan said. "This is the first year that it has kind of just been a totally normal year ... I'm glad he is here the first week and hopefully it'll continue."

Shanahan's request to Bosa was largely rooted in the need to have one of the 49ers' few returning defensive linemen around to help integrate the many new players in that group.

"He kind of stated how he felt about why it would be good for me to be here and asked if I agreed," Bosa said. "And I 100% did agree."

San Francisco said goodbye to defensive linemen Arik Armstead, Chase Young, Clelin Ferrell, Randy Gregory, Javon Kinlaw and Sebastian Joseph-Day in the offseason. It devoted most of its free agent resources to restocking that room, signing ends Leonard Floyd and Yetur Gross-Matos and tackle Jordan Elliott and trading for tackle Maliek Collins.

Of the seven defensive linemen to play at least 200 snaps in 2023, only Bosa and defensive tackles Javon Hargrave and Kevin Givens remain on the roster.

"It's just good to get around the new guys," Bosa said. "We have a lot of new faces this year, so just kind of helping the new guys out ... It's kind of a new year and I want to be around."

The hope for Bosa and the Niners is his presence for OTAs, the veteran minicamp in early June and all of training camp will provide plenty of benefits for him, too. Because of last year's holdout, Bosa missed OTAs, showed up but did not participate in the full-squad minicamp, then missed training camp and the preseason. After signing his contract, Bosa got a single walkthrough before playing in the season opener against the Steelers.

That meant no training camp reps against left tackle Trent Williams or any of the Niners' other top linemen, something Bosa has enjoyed and used to sharpen his skills before previous seasons.

While Bosa believes he had his best year playing the run and his pressure numbers were roughly the same -- he was fifth in the NFL with 56 pressures in 2023 and third with 59 in 2022 -- he wasn't as productive as a pass-rusher as he was in 2022, when he won the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award.

From 2022 to 2023, Bosa's pass rush win rate fell from 20.9% to 18.6%, dropping him from 10th among edge rushers to 19th. His sack total dropped from a league-leading 18.5 to 10.5 and his sacks created were nearly halved from 13 to 7.5.

After last season ended, Bosa said he felt like the contract extension affected him both mentally and performance-wise. He noted he was a bit rusty with his hand usage and affected by the stress of the protracted negotiations as well as the pressure that comes with living up to the contract.

The Niners' struggles to find a complement who could take some attention away from Bosa didn't help, which allowed opposing offenses to throw multiple blockers at him. Bosa was double-teamed on 26.2% of his snaps in 2023, the fourth highest among edge defenders and a big jump from the 19.6% (13th highest) he faced in 2022. That explains in part why the Niners invested heavily in Floyd.

"Even when you're one of the best in the world at doing what you do, that's a difficult task," defensive line coach Kris Kocurek said. "I think he will be more honed in this year with the reps here at the end of the offseason and then just being able to go out there and go against Trent.

"If you're off a little bit in the NFL, you're not going to win ... It's a battle of small details that I think early in the season should pay off with the amount of work he's going to be able to put into it."

Under normal circumstances, Bosa doesn't wait long before getting into his offseason training. The Niners' trip to Super Bowl LVIII was a bit more taxing, though, so Bosa eased back into things more than usual before returning to the Bay Area.

But Bosa said he's feeling as good as he has in a long time and appreciating the opportunity to work on football things rather than worrying about contracts or recovery.

"I'm taking it a little a little slower, but everything's great," Bosa said. "I'm feeling as good as I've felt. I'm excited to actually get some practice in. Last year was kind of tough getting thrown in week one after a walkthrough, so that was another reason I'm excited to be here is just to get practicing a little bit.

"In-season practice is one thing, but actually being able to work your stuff and not have a game coming up is good."