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Jason Tarver's 49ers homecoming has a familiar feel

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Sure, Jason Tarver joining old friend Jim Tomsula's coaching staff with the San Francisco 49ers can be seen as a homecoming for the man known as the "mad genius" in certain circles.

After all, Tarver's NFL coaching career began with the Niners in 2001, under then-coach Steve Mariucci following an interview with Bill Walsh ... as an offensive quality control coach.

The Niners, after going to the playoffs 16 of the previous 18 years, had missed out on the postseason the two years before Tarver arrived, so he had a front-row seat as they had consecutive playoff seasons in '01 and '02 before falling off again and not reaching the postseason again until 2011.

Now, this is not to suggest Tarver was the missing ingredient, rather, he saw first-hand what it took for the Niners to be a playoff team. Because, after three straight trips to the NFC Championship Game, the Niners fell back to the pack last season at 8-8 and many observers see the team in full rebuild mode.

Basically, this all feels familiar to Tarver ... in more ways than one.

"There's a lot of guys that tasted it and really want that," Tarver said of 49ers players on the roster who have experienced the playoffs. "And then there's some other guys that observed that level, what it takes to play at that level. And there's others that still don't know. So it's a great mix.

"Rosters are always moving but we like how this group works and how it's starting to grow together."

Tarver spent the past three seasons as the Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator, and with a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Santa Clara and a master's degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from UCLA, and his penchant for designing exotic game plans, the "mad scientist" moniker took off. Former Raiders safety Mike Mitchell referred to Tarver as a "baby genius" on more than one occasion.

The Raiders' defense, under Tarver, ranked 18th, 11th and 12th, respectively, for teams that went 4-12, 4-12 and 3-13. One of those three victories last season was against the 49ers.

It was impressive enough for Tomsula to reach out to Tarver to bring him to the Niners as his senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach, albeit, before inside linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland retired.

Tarver scouted Willis at the Senior Bowl and was Willis' first position coach with the Niners.

So, yeah, losing those two stung, but Tarver is leaning on that whole next-man-up mantra and said he's seen "flashes" from the remaining Niners.

"The young men that are here have played and have played well because that was the standard," Tarver said. "Most exciting to me is, from the linebacker's perspective, a lot of these guys have tasted it and they work accordingly. They understand. They've seen what the standard is. This offseason, they've really practiced well and they get better every day. That's exciting. They continue to do that, we're on the right track."

Tarver said Aldon Smith, who sat out most of minicamp after getting a foot stepped on, had a "good" spring while saying Ahmad Brooks had a "great" spring and mentioned the quality reps gained by Corey Lemonier and third-round pick Eli Harold.

The biggest question, though, revolves around NaVorro Bowman, as he continues his comeback from the brutal left knee injury he suffered in the 2014 NFC championship game that kept him sidelined all last season.

"Bowman wants to come back and prove he's the best, off his injury," Tarver said. "What's great about Bo is he's got his flexibility, he's got his movement, he looks really good in drills. He made some good plays in spring. So he's just monitoring it daily.

"He's right where he needs to be ... right on the process. Glad to be around him again. He loves this game."

Bowman's rookie season in 2010 was Tarver's final year of his first tour with the Niners, before he went to Stanford for a year and then to Oakland.

"There's talent," Tarver said, "and now we get to watch it grow together."

Sound familiar?