His rookie season is behind him. For most second-year NFL players the improvement from year one to year two represents some of the largest growth they'll ever experience in their career. For Alvin Bowen the story is different.
Bowen's rookie year never got started. Cut short by a torn ACL suffered in training camp, the linebacker has been on the mend ever since. The good news is the Iowa State product is now entering month seven of his rehabilitation and he can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"I feel pretty good," Bowen told Buffalobills.com. "I've come a long way and I still have a long way to go, but all things considered I feel pretty good."
As with any major rehabilitation, Bowen had his ups and downs in going through the daily grind of getting his knee right again. But late last year was when he felt he was turning a corner.
"Having never been injured before kind of puts you in the state of mind where you're wondering if you'll ever get back on the field," said Bowen. "But I think it was the first day when they allowed me to go back on the turf that I kind of felt like an athlete again. After that I felt pretty confident."
Despite missing the entire 2008 season on injured reserve, Bowen made an effort to keep up with his responsibilities in the classroom when it came to grasping Buffalo's defensive scheme.
"You realize that every week during the regular season the scheme changes for the particular opponent," Bowen said. "I kind of learned how to treat a game week and mentally prepare for what you have to do and what the opponent likes to do. As far as the defense is concerned, I did take little hints and clues about how to play the defense a little bit better than I knew before."
Right now Bowen's focus is strengthening his leg to the point where it's strong and stable enough to withstand the rigors of the game.
"It's basically just strengthening the area around the knee," he said. "Going through surgery you lose a lot of that strength. And then after that it'll be the mental part where I tune my mind to know that I can do it again."
Bowen doesn't anticipate the mental part being a big hurdle for him. Rehabbing in Houston right now, Bowen plans to report for the beginning of the offseason conditioning program which starts later this month. After that he's hopeful he'll be cleared for practice once OTAs roll around in May.
"I'm not pushing myself too hard just because in coming back from the injury they've told me not to push it too hard," Bowen said. "The last thing you want is a setback right now. So I'm going to be focused on strengthening the area around the knee and doing everything else I've been told to do."
Knowing his primary role is likely to be on special teams, Bowen is motivated by the unit's number one league ranking in 2008.
"It's going to motivate me more because just to be a part of that group would be an honor," said Bowen. "How do you make the number one unit better? They're already number one. I'll do whatever coach wants. Coach April and I spoke through the course of the season to keep me informed about special teams. I'm determined to make my name first of all on special teams and I have no problem with that."
But it's hard not to keep a watchful eye on what becomes of the strong side linebacker position. Keith Ellison looks as though he'll be back in the fold after being tendered last week as a restricted free agent, but beyond him the competition is comparable to what Bowen brings to the table. The linebacker however, is not assuming anything.
"I just have to do my part as far as what the coaches ask me to do and that's about it," he said.
It's clear that Bowen wants to keep it simple right now. Getting back on the field just to practice is the top priority now. As long as that leads to being able to contribute in some way on Sundays in the fall, he can live with that.
"(The injury) was hard, but you just deal with it like anything else," said Bowen. "You take your time and do what you're supposed to do. But I want to come back and show that I can play in this league and be a factor."