Manny Bowen Takes Center Stage On Depleted Defense
All season long, Penn State’s mantra has been “next man up.”
With seven linebackers out with injury — and no good news to report — it has to be. There are still seven games left to be played, and nobody’s going to give the Lions any sympathy. Tough times don’t last, tough people do, and that’s exactly what sophomore linebacker Manny Bowen is doing in his second season at Penn State.
Filling in at the Sam linebacker position, Bowen, who has 23 tackles and a sack on the season, has been tasked with leading the front seven as the linebacking corps’ elder statesman by default given middle linebacker Brandon Smith’s relative inexperience on the field up until this season. The former four-star recruit’s journey to the field wasn’t completely aided by the slew of injuries suffered by the team’s core group of defenders; Bowen could’ve thrown a dart blindfolded and hit a program that offered him a scholarship during his recruitment. The Barnegat, N.J. native earned his way up the depth chart, but the next phase in his career arc was unprecedented to say the least.
Though the odds seem stacked with each passing week, Bowen’s come to embrace his newfound role as a leader of the defense and set his mind to becoming a more versatile linebacker.
“It’s not what you want to be happening especially this early in the season,” Bowen said. “But I think a lot of guys who are younger and who’ve played [the linebacker] position know that it’s time they have to start learning more positions so they can move around more and we can fix those holes in our defense.”
Though the Lions mended a few leaks in the defense against the Golden Gophers, it was still evident the front seven had some work to do in allowing 228 rushing yards — including one 37-yard touchdown scamper by Minnesota’s Shannon Brooks down the stretch. Part of solving the problem goes back to Bowen’s commitment to versatility. After James Franklin announced neither Brandon Bell or Jason Cabinda would return to the field against Maryland, that notion becomes all the more interesting. Just how many spots will Bowen play on Saturday?
“I’ve played Sam and Will, I guess I’ll start having to learn the Mike position now,” Bowen said prior to last weekend’s meeting against Minnesota.
This week, Franklin acknowledged Bowen’s versatility, potentially tipping his hand on his plan for the true sophomore.
“We do think has the ability to play Mike linebacker and hold up. The game has changed,” Franklin said. “So many people are playing the spread now. You would love to have that type of athlete at Mike linebacker for you. He’s doing a nice job. He has great instincts but needs to learn how to play Mike linebacker and command the defense.”
Against a 4-0 Maryland team averaging 300 rushing yards per game, the Lions are counting on Bowen to provide what the rest of the group can’t; James Franklin needs his budding young linebacker to excel. What’s more, he needs Bowen to continue to grow at a rate few others are called upon to do.
With no other options, it’s Bowen’s time to steal the spotlight.