- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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POTOMAC FALLS, Va. -- He’s 30 and coming off microfracture surgery, and he costs a good amount against the salary cap. It certainly leads to questions about his future. Just don’t bother Stephen Bowen with those questions. In his mind, there are none.
He’ll be back. He’ll be the Redskins' starting defensive end. And his knee will be strong. Whether that’s how it plays out remains to be seen. But for now, Bowen likes the direction in which he’s heading.
His optimism starts with his knee, which needed microfracture surgery to stimulate the growth of new cartilage. Here’s a look at the procedure from ESPN’s Stephania Bell (writing about the NBA's Greg Oden, but the general information applies to all). Bowen said doctors have told him the cartilage is filling in and that he was running at 80 percent of his weight.
“Training camp is when they want me to be 100 percent [recovered],” Bowen said. “I have no doubt in my mind that I’ll be ready.”
It’s not uncommon for NFL players to return from this procedure (Chase Minnifield had it before the 2012 draft) and play for a few more years (Bruce Smith played six more). Of course, the procedure for some is a last-ditch effort to fix a knee. It can take up to a year sometimes for the new cartilage to form; it’s also not as strong when it does, putting it more at risk. That means strengthening the muscles around the knee is imperative.
Regardless, Bowen likes what he’s heard from his doctors. And when he returns to the field, Bowen knows what role he’ll assume. The Redskins signed defensive end Jason Hatcher -- Bowen’s best friend -- to help with the interior pass rush. They also re-signed Chris Baker and have Jarvis Jenkins. All will compete for starting jobs.
“I know I’m one of the top 3-4 ends in the league,” Bowen said. “For what they ask me to do, there’s no one better [at] what I do. It’s not me being cocky, it’s me being confident in my ability. As for me, I definitely think I’ll be the starter.”
But he also likes the additional help along the line. Bowen said he and Hatcher have similar personalities and that “we’re all looking forward to dominating this year.” After last season’s performance, that’s a strong word to use. Bowen’s main job is playing the run and occupying blockers, which he’s done well in Washington (though he’s had other issues with his knees, impacting his play).
However, he’s had one sack since recording a career-best six in 2011. The line in general has not produced nearly enough in the pass rush. That must change this season. Hatcher’s arrival helps, but more is needed.
“We have a lot of talent on the defensive line,” Bowen said. “The great defensive lines that win championships, they come at people in waves. They have a lot of talent. That’s the way you have to get it done. ... For us to be dominant, everyone has to have a role and you have to play it out to perfection.”
Bowen said the Redskins have not talked to him about his contract. He’ll cost $7.02 million against the salary cap. And multiple Redskins sources say he remains firmly in their plans.
“I know what I bring to the table,” Bowen said. “I know it’s not too many people can do what I do and I know I have great ability, so that’s never been a question.”