Ravens linebacker Tyus Bowser describes how he's coped with irregular playing time.
Tyus Bowser's eyes roam across the cavernous expanse of the Ravens' indoor practice facility, with two Super Bowl banners draped prominently on the far wall.
He never wants to take for granted how cool it is to call this his office.
"There's so many people who wish they could do this," he says. "So much joy in it."
The 22-year-old linebacker is in the midst of grappling with the uncertain existence of an NFL rookie. He played 35 defensive snaps in his second professional game and seemed on the cusp of becoming a key reserve behind veteran star Terrell Suggs. But then his playing time slipped to the point that he got in for just five defensive snaps in a Week 7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
With that came griping from fans and analysts, who compare Bowser to players selected after him in this year's draft. Wouldn't JuJu Smith-Schuster, who's averaging 17.7 yards a catch for the Pittsburgh Steelers, look nice on the receiver-depleted Ravens, critics have said?
"It can't help you, and you can't control it," he says. "Of course you want to make sure you're not one of those busts. But at the end of the day, half of those people probably don't know anything about football. … You can say what you need to, but I'm going to go out here and enjoy this. Those plays are going to come."
He's intent on mastering small things — this week's playbook, his busy role on special teams — so he can ultimately take advantage of the very big platform offered by NFL stardom.
"It's an adjustment, something I haven't been through before," he says of playing irregularly. "I've been trying to go about it the right way, just controlling what I can control. I want to go out there and play fast for those five or six reps that I have or the 35 reps that I had."
“When you’re by yourself a lot, you tend to think about a lot of stuff. For me, that’s just how I’ve always been. You try to figure out things for yourself."
Ravens rookie linebacker Tyus Bowser
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Family members have noted how nonchalant he is. He doesn't sound much different describing NFL action than he did recapping his first high school game in Tyler, Texas. But there's a method behind the words he delivers in a gentle, lilting voice.
Bowser figures that if he maintains the same outlook he did as a teenager, then as a star at Houston, no situation in the NFL is likely to overwhelm him.
"Everything is the same. You've just got more talent out there," he says. "That's always been my mindset. You're just playing football. You get your play. You figure out what you need to do and where you need to be aligned. At the end of the day, you're still just playing football."
Bowser describes himself as "a basic guy." But he grew up admiring athletes such as LeBron James, who seamlessly blend in-game greatness with social consciousness and marketing acumen.
If he wasn't playing football, he says, he'd probably be using his artistic skills to design and sell sportswear for a global audience.
Many rookies are still learning how to live on their own for the first time, how to manage money and balance new demands from family and friends. Bowser, on the other hand, has thought beyond that to a day when he might be able to brighten a kid's entire outlook with one encouraging conversation.
He sees the power wielded by stars such as James or Odell Beckham Jr., and he thinks about the good he could do with it.
"You can change the lives of a lot of people," he says. "Not only with what you do on the field, but if you talk to them, meet them, go out in the community, that can change everything for a kid. … That's my main joy about playing football."
Bowser grew up an only child, and to this day, he's perfectly happy to go home after work, flip on the television and live inside his own brain.
"I've always been around my own company," he says. "I have no problem being with myself."
Perhaps that explains why he's thought so much about his place in the world at a relatively young age.
"When you're by yourself a lot, you tend to think about a lot of stuff," he says. "For me, that's just how I've always been. You try to figure out things for yourself."
Before he gets to the big stuff of becoming a recognized face and changing lives, he knows he must figure out the minutiae of a professional existence.
In college at Houston, he lived on a non-stop treadmill, moving from practice to class to evening study. Rarely did his time belong entirely to him.
In the NFL, he's expected to devote more hours to refreshing his body (weekly massages and sessions in the cold tub) and more thought to perfecting his craft (he starts digging into game tape first thing Monday).
But he also has more space to get away from the game if that's what he needs on a given night. On Sunday, for example, he's more apt to spend the evening with family members who've flown in for the game than he is to dwell on the day's action.
Former Houston teammates such as Kenneth Farrow, Will Jackson and Joey Mbu gave him useful advice on selling himself to the NFL — how to get the most out of the Senior Bowl, how to converse with coaches during pre-draft visits. That paid off when the Ravens picked him in the second round.
Now that he's in the league, he leans on veteran teammates such as Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Brandon Carr and Benjamin Watson for advice. Rookie teasing aside, he finds them patient and candid when he poses a genuine question.
"It's just hearing how they were able to overcome certain situations — when your body's hurting or if they had problems with coaches, just all types of situations and stories that they've told me on how to go about it," Bowser says. "I've been going through it too, and they've been there. … You learn how to go about different stuff and hopefully, in five or six years, you can be in that position helping other guys out."
The Ravens hold a meeting for rookies every Tuesday morning, with topics ranging from sexual harassment in the workplace to long-term financial management.
Watson spent more than an hour with them this week, detailing how he balances his personal relationships and faith with his intensive preparations for each game.
Bowser says he's cherished such interactions amid the weekly bustle of practices and film sessions.
That said, the only child retreats within himself in the hours before a game. Shortly before he runs down the tunnel, he clamps on his headphones and listens to the same song, "Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2" by Drake, featuring Jay Z. The laid-back but insistent beat fits the mood he's seeking.
Out there, Bowser wants to be joyous and fast.
"I'm just trying to come out with a clear mind," he says.