Bowman, Dog D-Line Taking Shape

Nobody is going to label Jessie Bowman's physique as ‘sleek.' But to watch this stocky tackle moving and muscling around in the middle of Mississippi State's defensive line on a practice day is to believe his proud proclamation. "I've never been in this good a shape!"

Bold words coming from a 6-1 junior who only after a few days of August sweating has slipped under 310 pounds. It's a fact, though, that Bowman looks like an entirely different Dog than the January transfer who brought a bit too much bulk into spring camp. And that aspect of getting up to senior college speed isn't finished, he adds.

"Thanks to Coach (Ben) Pollard I weigh 309," Bowman said. "I'd like to play around 305, 300, which isn't too far off."

The first live action of his Mississippi State career is drawing ever-closer as well, with just over three weeks left to prepare for the season-opener. Bowman and his d-line mates take the next step this week as they pull on full-pads at last, and start hitting each other for-real. Not that there hasn't been some action already in the early days of preseason.

"We're moving along real well," said Bowman, not at all bothered by the almost-daily adjustments at both tackle positions that change who he lines up beside—or stands waiting behind—as Coach David Turner keeps the competition at the same level as the afternoon August temperatures. Bowman, who signed out of junior college to play immediately, isn't insulted by the shuffles up-front, whether it's adjusting to having either Kyle Love or Cortez McCraney to his immediate left or even or having guys like Lamarcus Williams or Quinton Wesley taking his first-team place in some drills.

"It's like the same number of people as (we had in) spring but it's different people," he said. "Like the other day when Charles Burns went back to tackle and Rodney Prince moved inside." The more who can play there, the better as far as Bowman is concerned…though he clearly intends to be on the field for 2007's first defensive snap. "The guys around us are real good, if I go down in a game—which I hope doesn't happen!—I know those guys behind us can come in and fill the spot real well."

His particular spot is labeled right tackle in State's four-man front, but the fact is Bowman more often looks like the middle-tackle in an odd-front. "It's more at nose," he explained. "I guess my body frame is fitted more for nose. It's different because I'm used to playing on the left side, but I moved to right side to help the team out. I feel real comfortable there." And he definitely feels comfortable in his better-conditioned body.

If there's any bad feelings it is for the constant questions raised about Mississippi State's defensive line all summer. Sure, losing three top-drawer senior tackles took a decade's worth of varsity experience from the roster. And true, the heirs to those two starting jobs haven't proven themselves in SEC action. Yet these are proud ballplayers in their own right and believe they belong at this level and on the field come August 30.

"It kind of bothers me," Bowman said of the criticisms. But he does understand the source. "As a unit we have talent, but it's talent no one has seen before. So we have to put it together and overcome the odds." If it sounds as if the critiques are being used as added practice motivation, correct, though Turner wisely doesn't stress the subject too long or loud. If anything he has brought a light touch to drills so far, demanding but at the same time allowing a little room for fun when preseason-possible.

No wonder Bowman and his compadres are eager to prove themselves, initially against their own offensive counterparts. "We're looking forward to putting the pads on, to seeing what the tempo is," he said. "I know (left OG Anthony) Strauder every day is going to help me get better and I try my best to help him get better." Maybe a little too hard at times. "We had our first scuffle Thursday," Bowman admitted, with a shy smile that became an outright grin when asked who had the better of things. "You know the defense won!" he laughed. As if he'd admitted otherwise, right?

"Well, we really did!" he insisted. And beating the Bulldog o-line is something worth noting now as the blocking corps has made major strides in the last year. Take it from Bowman, "The offensive line is very good as a unit and as individuals."

That's what he expects to say about the defensive line, too, something to be proved over this coming week of full-contact, some two-a-days drills, and the first preseason scrimmage. Don't look for this bunch to pace themselves as the workload increases, either. "We are going to be very aggressive," Bowman said.

After a day off Mississippi State is back on the practice field Monday at 5:00. Tuesday starts the three dates of two-a-day drills.

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