As the spring OTA and minicamp practices wound down, second-year linebacker Alvin Bowen was encouraged by his progress in his return to the field from an ACL tear. So too were his coaches.
"He's moved well," said Bills head coach Dick Jauron. "I know at least in my case I can say when you come back from an injury it takes a while and it doesn't take a long while, but you've got to get through a number of practices and situations before you've got complete confidence again. I think that's where he is. He's gaining a lot of confidence."
Bowen admitted at the outset of OTAs there was an adjustment period as he got re-acclimated to football type movements as opposed to rehabilitation exercises.
"The first day was like my first day of playing football ever," Bowen said. "You're just excited that you're out there running and playing football."
But a lot has changed in a year. Added to the linebacker mix in the time that Bowen was on the shelf were free agent Pat Thomas, fifth-round pick Nic Harris and undrafted rookie Ashlee Palmer.
The man they call "Ace" is unaffected by the added competition. Bowen faced a far greater challenge in rehabbing his surgically repaired knee than he will with any teammate battling him for a role on the 53-man roster.
Plus Bowen has some advantages that Thomas, Harris and Palmer do not. The Iowa State product has a full year in the defensive system. Though he did not have much more time on the job to execute his assignments within that system than the newcomers due to his injury, his time spent in the meeting rooms throughout last season could be the difference.
"He's made some nice improvement and again it's based on time at position because he's been here," said linebackers coach Matt Sheldon. "He's really done a nice job in the offseason with the rehab and then he's been here really for all our technique work and spring practice stuff."
Naturally Bowen wasn't completely satisfied with his play in the spring workouts as he saw time primarily with the third team defense on the weak side while also getting reps in the nickel package.
"Being out of it for a little while it takes time, a few reps, but along the way it was getting better," Bowen said.
Part of the reason Bowen was lined up with the third team was to keep his knee from being overworked in the OTA and minicamp setting. But Sheldon concurred with Bowen's self-assessment.
"We see him going quicker from the eyes to the feet," Sheldon said. "His body movements are still coming back from the injury but he's making progress all the time."
The next step for Bowen is training camp and full contact practice. It's a mental hurdle for any player coming off a severe injury, but to return to the same field where the injury occurred to test it in full contact practice for the first time is a significant challenge.
"It'll probably take that first good shot on it to get over it," said Bowen. "I was still thinking about (the knee) this spring in practice because I'm still doing the breaks and fast twitch movements and starting stopping. But so far I can't complain."
But anyone that knows Bowen understands he's a full speed player. There is no in between, no hesitation. So as patient as he has been in waiting to get back to being capable of full throttle, once Bowen is there everyone will know it.
"I'm more a do it on the field type of guy," said Bowen. "That's what I'm waiting on now to have it all come back to me and work."