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Bowen's Tackle Is a Big Hit

'It Looked Worse Than It Was'

By Mark Maske

Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, August 1, 2003; Page D01

When Washington Redskins safety Matt Bowen passed offensive coordinator Hue Jackson in a hallway at Redskins Park yesterday, Bowen said: "You still mad at me?" Jackson grinned and replied: "I was never mad at you. How could I be after you made SportsCenter?"

Bowen was a staple on sports highlights shows Tuesday night. His jarring hit on Redskins tailback Trung Canidate during a training-camp drill made for good television, with Canidate being sent airborne by the shoulder-first blow. Canidate emerged unscathed but the hit drew the ire of Redskins Coach Steve Spurrier, who reprimanded Bowen. Some longtime Redskins observers said they never had seen such a rugged tackle in training camp.

But as the Redskins returned to work with a morning practice yesterday, coaches and players said they now know they might have an honest-to-goodness intimidator in their secondary -- a positive development indeed as long as Bowen remembers to save his abuse for the opponent.

"It's better to have him on my team than the other team," wide receiver Rod Gardner said. "I'd rather play with him than play against him."

Said defensive coordinator George Edwards: "We don't want anyone on our own team to get hurt. We need everybody we've got. But Matt's been that way since before we got him. He's very competitive and aggressive, and it just came out. It looked worse than it was. I guarantee he didn't intentionally try to hurt someone."

Bowen said he saw replays of the hit and wasn't sure what he should think.

"I had mixed feelings about it," he said. "He's my teammate. I think it got a little blown out of proportion, to tell you the truth, because it's practice. Guys get a little edgy sometimes. It happened. Coach put an end to it right after it, and we'll move on."

Bowen, 26, was one of the four restricted free agents acquired in the offseason, signing a four-year, $6 million contract. A second-team all-American at Iowa, Bowen mostly was a backup in three seasons with the Green Bay Packers but made six regular season starts last year and was credited with 42 tackles, then had 15 more in Green Bay's playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

When Redskins officials watched tapes of Bowen's play with the Packers, they saw a fast, tough player who could help their defense against the run and make receivers think twice about coming over the middle. That, they thought, would provide a perfect complement for the coverage skills of cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot.

"I don't think you can consider yourself an intimidator," Bowen said. "I think other people can say that about you. We'll see. If I can make some big hits during the season, maybe some people will start saying it. . . . With the type of corners we have in Champ and Fred, if that can be my role, that's only going to help us. . . . Call me corny. Call me whatever you want, but I don't have expectations for myself. I want to win. I want to be on a winning team and win a championship. That's all I care about."

Smoot said he likes what he sees so far. "I can tell you two things that help a cornerback -- a good defensive line and a good safety," he said. "If the offense is scared to throw certain routes, it's in your favor. With a hard-hitting safety like that, the receivers get some alligator arms. . . . He's another Fred Smoot. They went and signed another Fred Smoot."

Bowen said he takes pride in being an all-out player, even in practice. He arrived with the starting free safety job all but his, but has practiced like a rookie trying to earn a roster spot. And contrary to appearances, Bowen has not been spending his time off the field plowing over teammates in the lunch line.

"Matt is quiet," Gardner said. "You don't hear him do too much talking. They're the ones you have to look out for because they're the ones who will sneak up on you. . . . I like Matt. I know Matt didn't want to hurt anybody, but at the same time, he was showing what he's capable of. Matt's a hard-nosed safety. You love to have that kind of guy on your team. He knows we're all in this together, but he's out here competing."

For now, though, Spurrier will continue to offer reminders that he wants to see a little restraint.

"I think it's only good when you're hitting the opponents," he said yesterday. "I don't think you beat up your teammates -- never have believed it, never will believe it. You've got to learn how to practice together. Now if we can hit the opponent like that, that's perfectly legal because they're going to hit us like that. But you can't do that against teammates."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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Good point, NoCalMike.

A big hit does not a good safety make. Doesn't mean you can cover. Doesn't mean you can tackle. Doesn't mean you'll regularly be in the right place to make the plays you should make.

I hope Bowen turns out to be some of the improvement we've been looking for at safety, I'm just not convinced of it yet simply because he laid a guy out hard enough to get on SportCenter.

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Smoot said he likes what he sees so far. "I can tell you two things that help a cornerback -- a good defensive line and a good safety,"

Well, maybe we can get one of 'em.

(I also wonder: Should he have added "a good lead" to that list?)

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