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Blockers, Burdens Slide Off Redskins Defensive End Stephen Bowen

By ZAC BOYER | zboyer@freelancestar.com | @ZacBoyer

This story appeared on page B1 of Wednesday’s Free Lance-Star

ASHBURN–Things are starting to get easier for Stephen Bowen.

The Washington Redskins defensive end is getting acclimated to the demands of playing right end in the team’s 3-4 scheme, learning the calls and lining up in the gaps.

He’s also closing on a house in the area with his wife, Tiffany, and they’ll move to Northern Virginia next week.

What offers the most comfort to Bowen, though, has nothing to do with his day job or his living situation. It’s that his son, Stephen III, will finally be relocated to an area hospital, cutting down on the emotional struggle that has conflicted Bowen since he signed with the Redskins in late July.

Tiffany gave birth to twins, Stephen III and Skyler, on June 28–four months prematurely. Skyler died after 10 days, and Stephen III has been in intensive care in a Dallas hospital since birth.

Because of the nature of the NFL, and the lockout, Bowen has had a chance to see Stephen III only once before leaving for Redskins training camp. During his days off, Bowen, Tiffany and Trinity, their 2-year-old daughter, would visit, spending much of the time looking for houses.

In the meantime, Bowen has spent his nights at an area hotel, much like many of the Redskins’ other rookies. That has afforded him the ability to learn the playbook and brush up on the nuances of the defense–something Bowen has found hasn’t been that difficult to adapt to.

“I’ve been hearing the same calls in [former Dallas coach Wade] Phillips‘ defense for the past four years,” Bowen said. “Now I’m at a point where I’m starting to get comfortable. We know what other people like to do and we try to work off that.”

In the past five years with the Cowboys, Bowen, 27, has spent much of his time as a reserve end in their 3-4 scheme. It wasn’t until midway through last season that Bowen became a starter, and he finished the year with 22 tackles, including 1 sacks.

Bowen expected that Dallas would be hot to re-sign him, but when free agency opened on July 27 and teams could start making phone calls, it wasn’t the Cowboys’ representatives on the other end.

Instead, it was the Redskins expressing interest. Dallas, meanwhile, didn’t call until the next day. After a very brief period of negotiation, Bowen ended up signing a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Redskins.

“When free agency started at 10 [a.m.], the Redskins called me at 10:01,” Bowen said. “They insisted upon having me here and [told me] how important it was for me to be here. I guess I had a little buzz going that I could be a guy that could sign early and be a sleeper in free agency.”

The pressure for Bowen to live up to such a large contract, especially after starting only the final nine games of last season, could be quite high. More of a run stopper than a pass rusher, Bowen has been part of a defensive line that, through three preseason games, has allowed only 92 rushing yards a game, the sixth-best average in the league and third-best in the NFC.

There was no hesitation for the Redskins to offer such a large contract, which comes with $12.5 million guaranteed. Coach Mike Shanahan said he first took notice of Bowen during the first game of last season against the Cowboys.

“I wasn’t really familiar with what he had done in the previous years, but when he played against us in the first game, he really stood out to me,” Shanahan said. “As I watched him throughout the season, he really stood out. I was kind of asking the same thing–why didn’t he start more games? I thought he was a difference maker both in the running and passing game, and I liked the way he played throughout the season.”

“Everything I’ve seen out of the guy is exactly what we thought,” said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. “First of all, he’s a quality kid and a good football player. He’s into it. He’s strong and powerful and kind of fits what we do.”

Adding to Bowen’s burden is the recent season-ending injury to rookie Jarvis Jenkins, who was placed on injured reserve late Monday. Jenkins was slotted to back up Adam Carriker on the left side, and without him, the Redskins don’t have much experience at either end position.

Kedric Golston is Bowen’s primary backup, and he started 13 games at the position last season. But Darrion Scott and Doug Worthington are the only other two ends who are on the roster, and Haslett admitted a last resort would be to move Barry Cofield, who came over from the New York Giants after last season to start at nose tackle, outside as well.

None of that concerns Bowen right now. He’s got quite a bit else on his mind, but when it comes to football, he knows his responsibility and his value.

“I knew that with me, Barry, Adam, and the other guys, we had a chance to do something special,” Bowen said. “And fun.”

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