Bowen Leaves Them Guessing, Hurting

Editor's note: Matt Bowen will answer your questions once a week, exclusively at Ask whatever question you want: he's a multi-faceted guy. Find out what he does in his spare time; find out who his favorite opponent is. But take advantage of your chance to play reporter and get a direct answer to your question. Look for the "Ask Matt Bowen" on the left-hand side of this page for more information.

He'll stroll past his teammates on near 90-degree days wearing a winter cap. He says it's to keep his body temperature high as he dips into a tub of ice water. Somehow, you're not so sure. And that's exactly what Redskins safety Matt Bowen wants: go ahead, wonder what's going on in his mind.

He's a bald guy. He wears winter caps in the summer. He must be a bit, well, off.

''I like to be a little mysterious,'' he said. ''I'm sure those offensive guys will wonder what kind of guy I am.''

He's a guy who delivers jarring hits and possesses what he calls a controlled violent temper. He's also someone who jots down his thoughts in a journal a few times a week. Someday he wants to write a book. And he's also written poems.

He's quirky; like other writers, he says.

''That's just Matt,'' Redskins corner Fred Smoot said. ''He's one of those guys. He's a wild guy. I love him.''

So, too, do the Redskins. Washington hopes Bowen gives it something it hasn't had in a while: a playmaking safety, one who has speed and can hit. From James Washington to Stanley Richard to Mark Carrier, the Redskins have sought such a safety. They've failed each time.

In comes Bowen, a relatively anonymous safety before this season who had started only eight career games, including six in 2002. But, in one of those games last season, he recorded 15 tackles in Green Bay's playoff loss to Atlanta. And the Redskins signed him as a restricted free agent, hoping to improve their play at a position that's been weak for a couple years.

With Ifeanyi Ohalete starting Saturday, Bowen will play free safety after playing strong alongside David Terrell for the first two games. Bowen can handle either spot because he's physical and he's fast.

''The big thing is you want to be physical,'' Redskins secondary coach George Catavolos said. ''You want to have a person, who, when the receiver comes over the middle, they look to see where he is and they're not so happy to be coming across the middle. Having Matt there has helped the other safeties realize how they have to play the game. Intensity. Physical.

''It's nice to have a safety like that who can control the middle that people have to account for.''

Bowen was the early talk of training camp, drawing attention for his hit on running back Trung Canidate, knocking him off his feet on a downfield run. The play was run, and re-run, on ESPN. That's not the only big hit he's had, but it's the one that first excited his defensive teammates.

But, to Bowen, that's what he has to do.

''There are only two great plays for a defensive back,'' he said. ''An interception is tops and making the big hit is second. This is who I am. I play hard, I run to the ball every time and I try to make plays on the ball. If you step up, I'll take you out. That's how it is. That's what I'm in there for, to put a big hit on. It could change the momentum of the game. With the corners we have, to shut people down our safeties have to be hard hitters and need to be intimidating. The Trung thing was blown out of proportion. I would never try to hurt him; I lived with him for two months this spring. But sometimes between the lines things happen.''

Receivers, take notice.

''It doesn't bother me,'' receiver Rod Gardner said. ''If you want to bring it, then I can bring it back to you. But you have other receivers who see it and it makes them second guess themselves if they come across the middle and see him.''

Bowen actually played quarterback in high school, but was moved to safety at Iowa. The position suited him better.

''I have a violent temper that's controlled on the field,'' he said. ''And that would get the best of me at quarterback.''

But not on defense where his speed--he's been timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.4 seconds--and physical play also can be used for more than just playing deep. The Redskins have stationed him near the line of scrimmage on occasion, sending him on blitzes or helping against the run.

He hasn't done much of that in the past, but he watched ex-Packers teammate and safety Darren Sharper blitz often. But Bowen gets through the line quicker than Redskins safeties have in the past few years, unafraid of crashing into offensive linemen.

''It's a craft,'' Bowen said. ''Sometimes the hole isn't there and you have to make one. But if you don't like blitzing, you've got problems. That's a fun thing for a safety to do. Third on my list of great plays is a sack.''

Bowen has a laid-back, quiet demeanor and a dry sense of humor. He doesn't chirp on the field. After his hit, he never let out a yell or flexed his muscles or anything. He simply returned to the huddle. And listened to the rest of the defense--Smoot in particular--hoot and holler.

''Fred handles it for all of us,'' Bowen said. ''I don't talk much in a game; that would make me more tired. Maybe I don't have any crafty things to say. Fred has all those good one liners and I don't have many good one liners.''

He's not always big on the spoken word, but he is a fan of the written one. Bowen graduated from Iowa with a journalism degree and harbors dreams of someday being a columnist for a newspaper--preferably in his native Chicago where he could watch his beloved sports teams.

He'd also like to write a book on his NFL experience. And he doesn't limit his writing: he's also written poems and short stories. His lone requirement is a nice-looking journal.

''The sport is so demanding and draining that you have to have something else to rely on and take your mind off it,'' Bowen said. ''I'm big on keeping journals and I practice my writing all the time. The minute you stop doing it for a while, you try to pick it up a month later and you get brainlocked.''

But the Redskins don't feel they were brainlocked when they signed him, surrendering a sixth-round pick to Green Bay.

''Sometimes,'' Catavolos said, ''the quiet ones are the most dangerous.''

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