Als rush-end Bowman on verge of greatness

Herb Zurkowsky

John Bowman claimed he has played better games in his career without getting any sacks, and who are we to argue?

“You don’t pay attention to it during the game and don’t feel it until after the game,” the fifth-year Alouettes’ strong-side rush-end said days following what many will suggest was the game of his career. “It’s not like I was dominating. The defensive line forced the quarterback to roam my way.

“It’s not like I was out there killing,” he added. “The defensive backs played excellent and forced (Kevin) Glenn to hold onto the ball longer.”

Perhaps it was that simple, and perhaps Bowman was the beneficiary of everything going on around him. We know this: In last Thursday’s 37-14 victory against Hamilton, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Bowman recorded four sacks - he originally was credited with three, but the Canadian Football League amended the statistic after going through the film - two forced fumbled and three tackles.

Three times in his career, the 28-year-old has had two sacks in a game. Bowman, who led the Als in sacks last season, with 11 - one off the league lead - now has five through four games, tying him for the league lead with Winnipeg’s Phillip Hunt. He’s also tied for the league lead in forced fumbles, with three.

Bowman has spent much of his career playing in the shadow of Montreal rush-end Anwar Stewart, the CFL’s outstanding defensive player in 2004 and the team’s nominee for the award three times. But that could soon end. Bowman, one of the league’s most underrated players, just might be on the verge of greatness.

“He has become a pro and takes his job a lot more seriously and listens,” said Stewart, 34, who has taken Bowman under his wing, tutoring and training with him during the winter months. “He’s taking what’s there and has put it into work. And he has become a real good defensive end. He has the energy and will to be better and to want more. And he expects more. When you have that attitude, a lot of times, you become unstoppable.

“This might be his year to have a breakout season,” Stewart added. “Maybe 15 or 20 sacks. You need consistency in this game, but if he stays at a high level, the sky’s the limit.”

Defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke said Bowman came to training camp slightly bigger and stronger, giving him more ability to go into and work around offensive tackles. And, Burke added, he has another year’s experience.

“John has been the spearhead of the defensive line,” Burke said. “It’s his effort. He goes hard all the time. And he’s got good speed. He did a great job (against Hamilton). He just kept bringing it and was relentless.

“He definitely has offensive-line coaches looking at us and figuring out ways to block Bowman. That’s unfortunately what happens when teams notice a pass rusher’s prowess.”

In other words, Bowman can anticipate potentially being double-teamed this Thursday, when the Als host Toronto at Molson Stadium in a first-place showdown. Both teams have 3-1 records and are on three-game winning streaks.

“I’m sure my time (for awards) will come,” Bowman said.

For now, Bowman and the defence are concentrating on stopping Argonauts’ running-back Cory Boyd, who leads the CFL in rushing, with 431 yards, and is averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Boyd has surpassed 100 yards in each of his last three games, something that hasn’t been accomplished since the legendary Bill Symons in 1968. And the Argos haven’t won three consecutive games in three seasons.

Boyd gained 148 yards in last Friday’s come-from-behind victory against British Columbia, and seemed to wear the defence down as the game progressed.

“He has a real good combination of speed and power,” Burke said. “In our pre-season game against them, I thought he only had good quickness and speed, but not power. But now he’s running over and through people.”

The Als appear to have solved whatever early-season defensive deficiencies plagued them. Montreal has allowed only two touchdowns and a combined 26 points in its last two games, although Burke said the unit must still improve its secondary coverage. “We’re trying to find coverages our players do best,” he explained. “That’s one area we’re still not good enough at.”

The Als are allowing a league-high average of 336.2 yards passing per game. The Als also have been penalized a league-high 480 yards this season - not all against the defence however - while taking 46 infractions through four games.

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