The way Bowden sees it, there's only one problem for Steelman, however, and that's that Army already has a starting quarterback. And for as much buzz as Steelman may receive from fans and armchair coaches alike, Bowden isn't buying into the idea that the incoming freshman signal caller will be taking his job anytime soon.
"People say things, but [Trent Steelman] has never taken a snap," said Bowden during a recent interview. "That's the thing, he has never proved himself against another Division 1 team, so he has got a lot to prove in two or three weeks…I wouldn't say I'm worried."
Bowden's 2008 resume from under center won't soon be confused with Nate Sassaman's record setting 1984 campaign, but the junior signal caller from Plant City, Florida does have a point. While Steelman has earned much acclaim for directing the United States Military Academy Prep School team to a 7-3 record last season (in the process beating the Navy Prep team and rushing for more than 1000 yards on the year) the incoming freshman quarterback has yet to take a snap in an FBS game. It's a distinction which Bowden shared just two short years ago, and one which he said will make Steelman's ability to win the job all the more difficult this summer.
"It's a whole other ball game," Bowden said in reference to the difference between playing at USMAPS and playing at the FBS level. "You do play ten games at the Prep School, but it is difficult to come up and play as a freshman."
Don't get Bowden wrong. He's not trying to take anything away from Steelman, nor is he discounting the ability of sophomore Max Jenkins, who was bracketed on the depth chart with Bowden for much of the spring. Yet when it comes to running Army's option attack, Bowden thinks that he has the inside track, and said that the steps he has taken to improve his game this offseason will give him a leg up during the summer quarterback competition.
"I've been working on getting stronger and getting faster…really working on my run techniques and focusing on certain things to try to gain a step or two for the season. I've really just been working on my speed and quickness, and working a lot in the weight room as well."
Bowden, who started nine games for the Black Knights last season, said that he feels the experience gained during Army's 3-9 campaign of 2008 will also aid him in fending off Jenkins and Steelman. While he acknowledged that he may not have played as well as he could have during the 2008 season, Bowden maintained that he made progress throughout the year, and said that the meaningful repetitions gained during the tail end of 2008 have helped him in adjusting to coordinator Ian Shields' new option system.
"I think in the spring, and during the last few games of last season, the game really slowed down for me," said the 6-foot, 211-pound Bowden, who rushed for 572 yards in 2008. "I don't know if that meant my decision making sped up or got better, but the game just started to slow down."
Added Bowden: "In the spring game, it was very easy to make my reads and determine where I was going with the football ahead of time. I think this offense is really going to help us as far as being really successful in the fall, and that was a big thing for me this spring."
Bowden spent much of the spring fending off his good friend Max Jenkins, who joined Bowden on a fishing trip following the conclusion of the school year. Saying that Jenkins "made a run" at Bowden during the spring, head coach Rich Ellerson maintained that the quarterback competition would "remain competitive" through the remainder of the offseason, while also hinting that Steelman would have a chance to compete once on campus.
Pamela Bowden, who doubled as Chip's mother and principle at Durant High School in Plant City, Florida, knows that her son will be tested by the other two quarterbacks during the spring, but said that Chip's drive and determination to help turn Army's program around will go a long way towards helping him secure the starting position.
"Chip is a very competitive person," testified Mrs. Bowden. "All his life he has never been a very good ‘sidelines' player. He has always liked to be in the action, and he very much wants to be a part of the group that can turn Army football around."
Adding that her son is "passionate enough that he is not going to lay down to any competition," Mrs. Bowden explained that Chip has been working in Tampa with a strength and conditioning coach during his brief summer vacation in July. His goal hasn't been to improve his game just enough to win the nod as Army's starter, but rather to build the foundation for a successful Army football season in 2009. Citing a time-tested theme that competition is a ‘good problem' to have, Pamela Bowden said that Chip is looking forward to the competition, and coming in with the attitude that whatever happens will be best for the team and the program.
"Chip has said that competition is good and it makes everyone better, and that it raises [the team's] level of play…He knows that in any college program you have to compete for those positions and maintain that level of competition. He has heard some of the stuff [about Trent], but he is preparing himself for that competition."
Chip, for his part, remains upbeat on the state of Army football heading into preseason camp. While he knows that the Black Knights have a tall task ahead of them after twelve straight losing seasons, he sees the arrival of the new staff as a positive move forward. Having been recruited by Bobby Ross and having played for Stan Brock, Bowden said he feels that Rich Ellerson and his staff have brought a new energy to the program, and have made the mission statement and goals for the team clear.
"I think we've definitely turned the corner as far as how we are preparing [for the season] and with our mindset…we know that we need to win and we need to win now, and we're really working hard to make sure that that is a reality in the fall."
Adam Nettina welcomes reader comments and feedback. He can be reached at AdamNettina[at]gmail.com.