Updated June 3, 2020 - 5:19 pm
Word of warning to anyone wondering how the Raiders are preparing to utilize rookie Lynn Bowden this season: Don’t bother asking him. He isn’t at liberty to say.
“I’m really not permitted to speak about that right now,” Bowden said while taking a break from the Raiders virtual OTA’s.
The mum’s the word response wasn’t relayed out of anger or deceit. The outgoing Bowden can’t wait to get on the field in his first NFL season and is beyond excited to help the Raiders anyway he can. He’s open and frank about all that and doesn’t mind expressing it one bit.
It’s just that Bowden’s versatility makes him one of the most unique Raiders rookies in years. His ability to throw the football, run with it and catch it means defenses have to be on alert for all possibilities regardless of where he lines up.
The Raiders, understanding the pressure their new weapon can put on a defense both before the snap and during the play, want to maintain that level of uncertainty for as long as possible. So for now, don’t expect any clarity on all the various ways they plan to use him.
In fact, as Raiders general manager Mike Mayock has said multiple times since last April’s draft, Bowden will play a “joker role.” Around the NFL that’s code for “wouldn’t you like to know.”
Bottom line, the Raiders are intent on tapping into all of Bowden’s talents and versatility.,
“Ahhhhhh yeah, something like that,” Bowden said, laughing.
It makes sense when you consider what Bowden did last year at Kentucky. He rushed for 1,468 yards, caught 30 passes for 348 yards and threw for 403 yards and three touchdowns. He started the season at wide receiver — the position he played most of his college career — but out of necessity switched to quarterback five games into the season.
The position change came late in a game against South Carolina when the Wildcats offense, in need of a spark after struggling for the third straight week, turned to Bowden.
The Warren, Ohio, native hadn’t played quarterback since high school, four years. Without preparation or practice time behind center, he immediately drove Kentucky 84 yards for a touchdown.
The late score didn’t prevent the Wildcats from losing 24-7 to fall to 2-3, but Bowden looked so comfortable and dynamic that the Kentucky coaching staff quickly scrapped its entire offense and created a new one for its full-time, dual-threat quarterback.
For Bowden, it was a tricky situation as it meant sending mixed signals to NFL evaluators trying to get a scouting handle on him. But his desire to win outweighed whatever concerns he had about how the position switch might affect his NFL future.
“The more I thought about it, the more I was like, I’m just not OK with losing,” Bowden said. “So if me playing quarterback gave us a better chance to win, that is what I was going to do.”
In fact, Bowden had been planting a seed with his coaches about a possible move throughout the early part of the season. With opposing defenses blanketing him with constant double and triple teams, it was getting more and more difficult to get the ball into his hands. Maybe by eliminating the middleman and snapping the ball directly to him, it would inject more life into the offense.
Down big to South Carolina with just three minutes left, Bowden put his foot down. “I was like, ‘Coach, just put me in,’ ” Bowden remembers.
With Bowden leading the way, Kentucky went 6-2 to finish the season, including a 37-30 win over Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl. In doing so, he solidified himself as an NFL prospect who could be used in multiple ways.
The switch to quarterback and the immediate impact he made were reminiscent of how he quickly mastered wide receiver after making the move from quarterback to that position his freshman year. By his sophomore year he was the Wildcats’ leader with 67 receptions, 745 receiving yards and five touchdown catches.
During the draft process, some teams viewed Bowden as a running back while some saw him as a wide receiver. To him it didn’t really matter.
“My mindset was I’m not going to limit myself, I’ll be open-minded to whatever position and whatever role,” Bowden said. “Wherever you need me to do to win football games, that’s what I’m going to do.”
The Raiders drafted Bowden as a running back. But with coach Jon Gruden being holed up in his home office as long as he has during the COVID-19 pandemic, you can only imagine how many packages and plays he’s cooked up to take advantage of Bowden’s running, catching and passing abilities.
So expect him to line up all over the field, including special teams. Bowden finished his career with 1,628 kickoff return yards (22.9 average per return) and averaged 22.1 yards on nine career punt returns.
Makes sense, then, that Gruden and the Raiders want to keep a tight lid on how they will unleash Bowden on opponents.
“I just want to be the best me,” Bowden said. “Bottom line, I just want to contribute as much as I can.”
Contact Vincent Bonsignore at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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