Defensive end overcame tragedy in productive '11 season
The rigors of training camp with a new system and a new team are hard enough without family tragedy.
Stephen Bowen's Redskins teammates had no idea he was going through both last summer. What they saw was their new defensive end, one who arrived on a five-year, $27.5 million contract with $12.5 million guaranteed.
Few knew that late spring, Bowen's wife had given birth to twin sons three months prematurely. Sklyer had died 10 days later; Stephen III was in intensive care.
"If I hadn't read about it, I wouldn't know because he just handled it so well," Redskins defensive tackle Adam Carriker said. "I was actually surprised."
Bowen still produced the best season of his career, more than doubling his sack total (1.5 to 6.0) and nearly doubling his tackles (22 to 41) from his 2010 season with Dallas. Rather than the third-down end he'd been with the Cowboys, Bowen embraced the opportunity to start for the Redskins and heeded the refinements suggested by defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and defensive line coach Jacob Burney.
"They noticed that in Dallas I used to do a lot of stuttering on the line, and they thought it was a waste of time for me getting to the quarterback," Bowen said. "I went from 1.5 sacks to six sacks so they were telling me the right thing."
As an every-down lineman in his second year in Washington, Bowen knows the added repetitions allow him more variety as well, enabling him to feel out opponents and use specific moves to set up adjustments and different moves later in a game. Watching film reveals where those moves are possible while extra work on hand-eye coordination improves the execution.
Bowen has similar expectations as fellow tackle Barry Cofield, who was signed last year as a free agent after five years with the New York Giants. Both are looking to follow in the footsteps of Carriker, who made similar strides last season, going from 1.5 sacks to 5.5 in his second season after being acquired from St. Louis.
"We're just trying to catch up to [Carriker]," Cofield said. "He's very consistent, technically sound, and we're both gaining that. We've got the ability and the talent, and we're playing hard. It's just about mastering the defense."
Most importantly for Bowen, who was given the Ed Block Courage Award by his teammates last December, is that Stephen III is now at home and developing normally.
That leaves Bowen's mind clear from any distractions, and it leaves his teammates only to notice when he is angry with his own play.
"I'm a hard critic to myself," Bowen said. "I'm never a guy that, 'Oh yeah, I did my job and you better do your job.' There's always room for improvement. I think I had a decent season, but I'm always shooting for a lot better."