Head Coach John Harbaugh was almost done with Sunday’s postgame press conference. Then he looked at Tyus Bowser, waiting for his turn at the podium.
Harbaugh couldn’t finish without praising Bowser for finishing plays.
“This guy has been working like crazy ever since the day he got here,” Harbaugh said. “You can see it paying off in the way he plays. He’s playing defense, he’s playing special teams. He’s getting to the quarterback, he’s playing the run exceptionally well, he knows the defense inside and out. To see him start to blossom like this has just been nothing but a joy. So keep building on that and become the great player we know he’s going to be.”
Bowser has been around the ball more than ever during Baltimore’s current five-game winning streak. He scored his first career touchdown during Sunday’s 49-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, alertly scooping up the football and running 33 yards for Baltimore’s final touchdown after a strip sack by defensive tackle Patrick Ricard.
The Ravens have believed in Bowser’s potential at outside linebacker since making him a second-round pick in 2017. However, his battle to earn regular playing time hasn’t been easy.
He produced just a ½ sack last season, playing sporadically behind Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith and Matthew Judon. After Baltimore lost Suggs and Smith during free agency, Bowser entered this season with an opportunity to play a larger role. But in September, Bowser was still finding his way. After the Ravens lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3, Harbaugh said he needed more from both Bowser and former Ravens linebacker Tim Williams.
“They need to be better,” Harbaugh said at the time. “We need to get more pressure, more sacks from those guys.”
A week later, Williams was released. But Bowser has responded. For seven consecutive games, Bowser’s defensive snap count has been rising:
Week 3 vs. Chiefs – 13
Week 4 vs. Browns – 15
Week 5 vs. Steelers -17
Week 6 vs. Bengals – 20
Week 7 vs. Seahawks – 21
Week 8 (bye)
Week 9 vs. Patriots – 28
Week 10 vs. Bengals – 31
Meanwhile, Bowser has remained an important member of the special teams unit and his impact on defense can’t be entirely measured by his stats – 14 tackles and two sacks.
His play has really come on since veteran outside linebacker Pernell McPhee suffered a season-ending triceps injury in Seattle. Bowser is playing with more force, shedding blocks, pressuring quarterbacks and pursuing ball carriers. When Harbaugh said he needed more from Bowser, he took it to heart.
“I used that as motivation,” Bowser said. “He cares. I think I heard that when a coach stops getting at you, that’s a tell that you might be out of here. He sees my potential. I definitely don’t want to prove him wrong. I want to prove him right.”
Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans should have special meaning for Bowser, a native of Tyler, Texas who attended the University of Houston where he had 21 career sacks. Friends and family in Houston will surely be tuning in, watching as Bowser and the Ravens face a Texans team (6-3) that is also playing well.
It will be critical for the Ravens to pressure Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, and Bowser is determined to make that happen. Using the example set by some of his veteran teammates, Bowser seems to have turned a corner and he is determined to keep the momentum going.
“(I’m) making the sacrifices, having great guys, great leaders like Brandon Carr, a guy that I really look up to as far as taking care of your body, doing the extra stuff, massages, doing extra film study along with Earl (Thomas) and all of those guys,” Bowser said.
“I look up to those boys. I try to do what they do. You see it pays off for them. Those guys have been in the league for a long time, plenty of accolades. That’s where I want to be. In order to be at that level, you’ve got to make those sacrifices.”