WASHINGTON — Redskins left tackle Kevin Bowen lay on the turf field inside the team’s practice bubble on Wednesday and smashed his fist into the ground.
With left tackles Trent Williams and Ty Nsekhe unavailable for an organized team activities (OTAs) practice, Bowen was splitting repetitions with fellow tackle Vinston Painter. It was a nice opportunity for the second-year pro from East Central, a Division II school in Oklahoma.
Instead, he lay on his back late in practice howling in pain. Bowen had injured his left leg blocking for quarterback Kirk Cousins on a 30-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis. No one noticed at first. But a hush fell over the bubble when it became clear Bowen appeared seriously hurt.
For some players, OTAs are a way to stay in football shape, hone their technique and get up to date on the playbook. For top veterans, like Williams and tight end Jordan Reed, there’s no real reason to even show up to the voluntary sessions. They avoid the risk altogether.
“When we come out here I don’t feel like anyone relaxes or chills,” wide receiver Jamison Crowder said. “I feel like being top athletes we come out here and compete against each other. It just sucks when someone goes down. Me personally, I don’t think about the worst-case scenario. I just want to come out here, have fun and make sure I’m doing my job and hope and pray that I can come out healthy.”
But for players like Bowen there is no real choice. This is where they lay the groundwork for training camp and what they hope is a shot at making the 53-man roster – or even a practice-squad spot.
Last year, the 6-foot-9, 346-pound Bowen was signed as an undrafted college free agent and took part in rookie minicamp. That led to him signing to the 90-man roster and he competed at minicamp and in Richmond. Bowen even showed some snarl when he got into a fight during a minicamp practice. But he was injured during training camp and spent the season on IR.
“You don’t win championships right now,” right tackle Morgan Moses said. “For now, it’s about familiarizing yourself with the offense, and guys are trying to define new roles. For Kevin, it’s very important for him to be out here. It sucks. But you know what you’re getting into when you put a helmet on every day.”
The Redskins brought Bowen back for depth on the offensive line, though his chances of winning a fourth tackle spot behind Williams, Moses and Nsekhe are low. Even Painter appeared in five games with Washington last season. The odds are not in Bowen’s favor, but he’s fighting to change that.
Teammates crowded around Bowen and tapped him on the helmet as team trainers worked on his left leg. A cart came out to midfield and Bowen had an air cast put on his leg. Players were so shaken that coach Jay Gruden canceled the final 20 minutes of practice. It looked possible that Bowen’s season was over before he even made it to camp this time. And for a player on the NFL’s margins, that could mean his football career is over, too.
In the end, according to a league source, the left leg injury isn’t considered serious and wasn’t as bad as it looked. That’s a relief. Bowen has seven weeks to heal for training camp in Richmond. But his injury is still a jarring lesson for players and – for some – a justification when stars like Williams and Reed, or like wide receiver DeSean Jackson two years ago, decide to work out on their own and not come to OTAs.
“The only positions that can actually work [on] things that get them better for the season and how football is actually played for them while not wearing pads is quarterbacks, kickers, punters and long snappers,” Redskins defensive lineman A.J. Francis told 106.7 The Fan’s Grant and Danny program last Friday before Bowen’s injury this week. “The only thing you can get from OTAs is accidentally hurt.”
Follow Redskins reporter Brian McNally on Twitter