University of Washington

UW outside linebackers focus on improving struggling pass rush

Ryan Bowman on UW’s defensive performance against Colorado

In this Oct. 28, 2018 file video, redshirt sophomore Ryan Bowman discusses Washington's defensive performance in the 27-13 victory over Colorado, including how the Huskies need to improve their execution on the pass rush.
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In this Oct. 28, 2018 file video, redshirt sophomore Ryan Bowman discusses Washington's defensive performance in the 27-13 victory over Colorado, including how the Huskies need to improve their execution on the pass rush.

In the early days of fall camp, redshirt junior Ryan Bowman overheard a few of Washington’s young outside linebackers talking about when they would get back home.

Bowman quickly stepped in with a lesson.

“I was like, ‘Look man, you all got to forget about home,’” Bowman said after practice on Wednesday. “’This is your home now,’”

When he first joined the program, Bowman received similar instruction from his older brother — former defensive lineman Shane Bowman — and his friends. Bowman matured over the past three years, learning time management and focus. Now he’s trying to guide a group of outside linebackers that includes two sophomores, one redshirt freshmen and three true freshmen down the same path.

The end-game of that process is taking a step forward on the field — and there is one goal circled and underlined on the metaphorical board: Improving the pass rush.

The Huskies managed just 24 sacks in 14 games last season. Their 1.71 sacks per game ranked 100th in the country. They also ranked 118th nationally in tackles per loss per game with 4.57. In 2017, UW had 39 sacks in 13 games, an average of 3.0 sacks per game. It also notched 6.6 tackles per loss per game.

“We were disappointed,” said redshirt sophomore Joe Tryon about last year’s pass rush, “but we’re going to build up on that and just use that as motivation now.”

Defensive backs Taylor Rapp and Myles Bryant led UW in sacks last season with 5.0 and 3.5, respectively. Of the returning players, only defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike (3.0) finished 2018 with more than a sack. Bowman and Tryon each had a sack last season while redshirt sophomore Ariel Ngata didn’t record any.

From the start of winter workouts through spring practice and now during fall camp, the outside linebackers have been working to boost those numbers. They’ve been purposeful in their work, getting together for extra drills and deliberate practice.

“We’re not messing around,” Bowman said. “We’re not joking around. We’re getting something done and actually getting better.”

Compared to other spring practices and fall camps, Bowman said they’re seeing twice the production as a unit. It helps that they’ve developed a strong rapport, even with the newest players on the roster.

“We’ve just been holding each other accountable and helping each other achieve our goals.” Bowman said. “Everything’s paying off for us.

“It’s a lot of fun, really, because we’re all really close friends. …. We’re not so focused where guys are like, ‘Man, can we relax?’ We’ve got a nice mix of focus and really good chemistry together. We’re all pretty funny guys and we have a good time.”

Tryon, too, has noticed the difference in a group he called “strides ahead” of where it was last year. In between the additional time on the field, Tryon watches NFL pass rushers. He tries to imagine himself in their position, thinking of how they progress through their moves.

He also spends plenty of time studying Bowman. The pair have typically been playing with the first-team defense, and Tryon often finds himself asking Bowman for tips. And while Bowman’s advice will often come paired with a sarcastic quip or a joke, he’s been patient with his instruction.

“I always ask him, ‘Hey, how do you do that maneuver?’ and he’ll explain it to me and I’m like, ‘I still don’t get,’” Tryon said with a laugh. “I’ll watch him and he does some crazy stuff. That dude, I look up to him and I really appreciate all the things he does for me.”

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