Defensive coordinator Brent Pry folded his hands Saturday afternoon and told a roomful of reporters that he wasn’t sure what role linebacker Manny Bowen would play on this team.
But whether he’s playing, starting or benched, Bowen’s teammates didn’t much seem to care. They all echoed the same sentiment: After the linebacker was kicked off the team in December, they’re glad to have him back.
“That’s one of our brothers,” redshirt senior linebacker Koa Farmer said. “He did a lot of things to get to where he is now. He worked hard.
“I don’t know if you guys know what he did, but it’s pretty amazing what he had to do to come back here. And for him to do that, it’s big-time. It shows how important we are for him.”
Bowen was suspended for the Rose Bowl during the 2016 season and then kicked off the team this past December following a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules. James Franklin never discussed specifics, although the suspension was reportedly related to academics.
On Saturday, minutes before the start of the Nittany Lions’ annual media day, official rosters were handed out that showed Bowen had returned to the team. Franklin said Bowen had reached a number of “stipulations” that led to his return.
The senior linebacker, who is set to graduate in December, practiced Friday for the first time since last season. Bowen missed the entire spring, but teammates said he barely skipped a beat in camp.
“It’s like he never left, like he never left,” Farmer repeated.
Added fellow linebacker Jan Johnson: “He’s a great kid, and he’s going to bring a lot of value to our team this year.”
Bowen has played in 35 career games and started in 21. With an LB corps lacking in experience, his addition is a big one for the Nittany Lions. No one has played in, or started, more games at linebacker than Bowen.
Still, the Nittany Lions’ defensive coordinator intimated he was no shoo-in to see a lot of playing time.
Pry praised the way he’s already resumed mentoring the younger players despite “not knowing what his role will be.” Pry also said, “In my mind, I’m not planning on Manny Bowen right now.”
Redshirt freshman linebacker Ellis Brooks said he’s already been able to pick Bowen’s brain, not just about the defense but about playing faster in general — whether it’s how to take on a block or what angle to attack from. In a way, Brooks said, it’s like talking to vocal leader Jason Cabinda, who now plays for the Oakland Raiders.
“He brings experience to the table,” Brooks said. “Definitely. Insight — game insight — he knows Coach Pry’s defense and what he’s looking for.”
Cam Brown, a junior linebacker and projected starter, said he’s already used Bowen as a resource.
“It definitely adds a new set of eyes, an older set of eyes,” Brown said. “He sees what some of us haven’t seen yet, and he knows how to adjust to certain things.”
Added Johnson: “When he talks, you listen because he’s been in the game. ... You have to listen to what he says.”
Franklin insisted that Bowen’s return had nothing to do with the position that Bowen plays or the needs the Nittany Lions have. Like Pry, he also said he‘s not sure what role Bowen will have on the field.
But regardless of what happens, or what outside criticism comes the Nittany Lions’ way, Bowen’s teammates are glad his time away from the team was only temporary.
“It’s great to have him back,” Brown said. “We’re happy to see him around; we’re happy to have him around.”