When folks talk about the Chicago Bears secondary, the conversation typically begins with the two All-Pro corners. There's no doubt that Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings have earned their accolades and deserve the attention.
And during training camp this year, everyone has fallen in love with Isaiah Frey, the club's former sixth-round pick who spent last year on the practice squad and is now the starting nickelback. Like the two veterans, Frey's play on the field, which was outstanding during training camp, has elicited the fanfare.
Yet one member of the secondary, who has been just as impressive as his teammates, has flown under the radar. Zack Bowman left a bad taste in the mouths of Bears fans the last time he started a game in Chicago. It was late in the 2011 campaign, after former head coach Lovie Smith benched Jennings, against the Green Bay Packers.
Bowman, who started 12 games for the Bears in 2009, was shredded by Aaron Rodgers and company that evening, getting lit up for three touchdowns. Jennings was re-inserted into the starting lineup the next week and Bowman was released at the end of the year. After signing briefly with the Minnesota Vikings last season, he was waived in early September, at which time the Bears re-signed him.
He didn't see much of the field last year on defense yet he finished second on the team in special teams tackles. It's a role he'll assume again this season, as Bowman has been a fixture on every special teams unit of coordinator Joe DeCamillis.
"[DeCamillis] has instilled a mindset in us where you've got to go out hunting on every play. No matter who it is, no matter what the call is, we're going to execute and we're going to give Devin the ball, make plays as a gunner and on kickoffs. That's his mentality.
"It's rough out there on special teams because there is a lot of stuff going on just on one play. It's very physical. It's very violent. You've got to play fast. You really can't think out there because everything is happening at a fast pace. You just have to react and be physical."
For Bowman, special teams are an acquired taste.
"I've gotten [better] over the course of time," he said. "When I first got into the league, you don't really know what to expect on special teams. But as you go through the years, you know the mindset and you know the mentality out there on special teams."
Yet Bowman has also made his mark this offseason as a cornerback. Through training camp, he has solidified his spot as the primary backup to both Jennings and Tillman out wide. If one goes down with injury, Bowman will step in, a role he has earned after months of solid play in practice.
In the first preseason game, Bowman showed up right away, defending one pass and intercepting another. In the second game, he added two more pass defended. His three total pass defended are the most on the team so far in the preseason.
"On the game film, I don't pat myself on the back for the good plays," he said. "You're supposed to make those plays. I focus on the plays I can get better on and getting it corrected for the next time."
Bowman has shown good quickness and balls skills, using his long, 6-1 frame to be disruptive in the passing game. Obviously, playing alongside and learning from two Pro Bowl starting corners has served him well.
"It helps out everybody," he said. "I've been with Peanut now for six years. I've been with Tim going on four years we've been together. It's always fun being around them off the field and obviously on the field."
After six years in the league, Bowman is also in a position to pass down his knowledge of the game, particularly to a young player like Frey, whom the team is counting on this year. Not too long ago, Bowman was also a first-time starter for the Bears in just his second year in the league. His advice for Frey?
"Just play ball. You're going to make mistakes, we all do. Even Tim and Peanut make mistakes, but you have to have a short-term memory and move on to the next play. That's what they do a good job at. ‘Hey, I might have messed up on this one play but trust me, then next time I get an opportunity, I'm going to make a play.' And that's what Peanut and Tim do, and that's what we look for out of those guys."
Bowman may not get the publicity of some of his teammates but rest assured, he'll be a big part of the Bears' success this year. And if all goes well, he'll get his first regular-season interception since 2009, a season in which led the team with six picks.
"This year, I'm not going to do nothing out of the ordinary," Bowman said. "I'm just going to make the plays that come. But as a cornerback, it's always your mindset to get the interception, so it'll feel good just to get one."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.