Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt Defense Top Five: Nigel Bowden

Over the next few days we'll rate VandyMania's top five offensive and defensive players. Today we'll take a look at Macon, Georgia native Nigel Bowden.

The Commodores will be getting a tremendous boost from Nigel Bowden, who will finally get to return to the field.  After a 2014 season that earned him Freshman All-SEC honors for becoming the first freshman to lead Vanderbilt in total tackles since Jamie Winborn in 1998, Nigel's sophomore season was cut short after a concussion in the second game against Georgia.

In the below clip at 3:48 mark you see him as a freshman on the road against Missouri, where he came away with a season-high 11 tackles.  Note his explosiveness off the ball and how he reads the play perfectly from the beginning before assisting in a tackle that results in a loss of yards and a forced fumble.

Bowden called the defensive signals before his concussion last season and out tackled Zach Cunningham in 2014.  This pair of inside linebackers that combined for 145 tackles in 2014 should be one of the best in the conference.  Cunningham picked up a lot of the slack left by Bowden's injury in 2015, crushing the team in total tackles.  When these two hit the field together again after multiple years in Derek Mason's defense, combined with an experienced secondary, it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the 'Dores defense drops off dramatically from 2015.

Reports indicate the downtime only motivated Bowden to better condition his body in order to have every opportunity to play. The redshirt junior also overcame the NCAA's concussion recovery protocol well by managing by being named to the 2015 Fall SEC Academic Honor Roll. 

The video clip below, at the 1:36 mark, was of Bowden's first collegiate game where he finished second on the team with six tackles, a fumble recovery, and a team-high two pass breakups.  It looks like the opposing running back runs into a brick wall.

Zach Cunningham stepped up to fill the gap left by Bowden during the 2015 season.  We can't forget that that job was Bowden's to begin with for a very good reason.  With the depth and experience the Commodore front seven possesses, the reemergence of Bowden will only help strengthen an already sound unit.   The big question if everyone remains healthy, is just how much production they'll get out of Bowden?   Will he regain his team tackling title from the 2014 season and how will that unit fare in disrupting the enemy quarterbacks?  Either way, Bowden will be a welcome sight for an already impressive Vandy defense in 2016. 

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