Sophomore Chris Bowers put in a lot of time and effort the past year or so trying to add weight to his frame so he could physically handle the rush end slot in Ole Miss Coach Ed Orgeron's 4-3 defense.
At 222 pounds - his playing weight most of last season, Chris was not as effective as he wanted to be in the trenches in the SEC.
His offseason work paid off. He put on nearly 25 pounds of good, solid weight and reported to summer camp in August at a much thicker 245 pounds, confident and a lot stronger.
"I knew what I needed to do and did it," said Bowers, a quiet sort who doesn't waste a lot of words in a conversation. "I was able to maintain my speed and got bigger and stronger."
Bowers was set to take control of the rush end slot and have a breakout year.
His plan waas sidetracked - twice - with foot and ankle injuries that cost him most of August practice and more recently some practice time this season.
"The first injury is getting better, but is still sore. The second injury (the other ankle) is still pretty sore," he explained, "but I'm getting better.
"I'm just having to play through it the best I can."
Now on the comeback trail, Bowers was a big part of an excellent showing against the Georgia Bulldogs last weekend when the Rebel defense held UGA to 248 yards of total offense.
"It felt good to have a good game on defense," Bowers stated. "We shut them out in the first half and actually played pretty good all the way through.
"We've struggled this year and needed a good showing. We don't like the fact we weren't able to finish it off with a win - we gave up a few plays in the second half that cost us, but holding them to 14 points is a good performance we needed."
Bowers, like all the Rebels we have talked to in the past few days, attributed the defensive effort against the Bulldogs to one thing - the practices leading up to the game.
"The coaches pushed us harder and held us more accountable to do things right in practices," he explained. "That carried over to the game.
"I give the coaches all the credit for getting us going in the right direction."
Some suggested fatigue may have played a factor in the Rebs not being able to pitch a shutout. Georgia had only 74 yards of offense in the first half and the Rebels played the same starting defensive line throughout the game with no substitutions.
Bowers, who had three solo tackles - one for loss - in the contest, disagreed.
"Fatigue wasn't a problem. Georgia schemed us a little bit with two tight end sets in the second half and hit us with some good plays," he explained. "I don't think fatigue had anything to do with it.
"It would be nice to have a rotation of players, but right now we don't have that so we set our minds to play every snap as hard as we can. When you know there isn't any depth, you do what you have to do. Fatigue is like an injury, you just fight through it."
Bowers said he was not surprised by the Rebs' showing against Georgia. What he's been surprised by was the lack of production in the previous games defensively.
"We've had some injuries and we've got some new players. We knew that it would take some time to get it all going, but we still felt we'd do better than we did against Wake Forest, Kentucky and Missouri," he explained. "Like I said earlier, the coaches turned up the intensity level and I think we needed that."
Bowers is looking forward to the Vanderbilt game this weekend and the rest of the season.
"Vanderbilt has a good offense. They come at you a lot of different ways. We will have to contain the option and make sure we handle our assignments," he said. "You can say that every week, about being assignment sound, but I think Vandy's option game makes it doubly important."
Does Bowers feel the Rebels have made a break through?
"I think we made a lot of progress against Georgia, but it wasn't a break through. It was more like a turning point, if we build on it," he noted. "We have to take that effort and keep getting better.
"That's our goal now."
Chris' personal goal also includes getting healthy and staying healthy.
"It's been frustrating, but it's part of the game you have to deal with," he closed. "I'm looking forward to the day when I can play injury-free."
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