Ja’Merez Bowen passes the eye test.
At 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds, the Cincinnati transfer has the body to play defensive line at the Big Ten level. Mark Hagen, his position coach at IU, has no doubt about that.
“He’s a guy that certainly looks the part,” Hagen said.
But that’s only the first component of a complicated equation for Bowen, a redshirt sophomore who only made the switch from offensive tackle in December.
As the Hoosiers dive into the final two weeks of spring practice, they’re hoping Bowen continues to add the tools and understanding to become a reliable player in the line rotation later this fall.
“He has to learn, really, from the ground up,” IU defensive coordinator Tom Allen said. “He shows flashes. I’ve said to coach Hagen, he looks like some guys that we had and played against other places I’ve been (like the Southeastern Conference). He has the body type. I’m thrilled to have him on defense.”
Bowen’s next college game will be his first. He redshirted as a freshman at Cincinnati, then sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules. Across both of those seasons, he was viewed as an offensive lineman until IU experimented with him on the defensive side during its allotment of bowl practices in December.
Bowen has a base of experience on the defensive line, having played both ways as a high school star at Shaker Heights High School in Cleveland. He enrolled at Cincinnati as the No. 51 ranked offensive tackle in the 2014 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com.
At Indiana, his role and responsibilities are changing.
“He’s got the body to play offensive line, but [he]wants to play defense and we’re going to give him that shot,” IU coach Kevin Wilson said.
Bowen’s position switch comes at an opportune time for all parties involved.
After defensive end Nick Mangieri graduated and defensive tackle Darius Latham left school to pursue an NFL career, nearly every defensive line spot on IU’s depth chart will be up for grabs as the program closes spring ball and approaches summer workouts over the next few weeks.
Right now, Hagen is measuring Bowen’s transition only in small increments, but the IU assistant is beginning to see progress take hold.
“I ask him every day, ‘Are you sure you’ve played defense before?’ because he doesn’t have a ton of snaps under his belt as a defensive player,” Hagen said. “I never saw any high school video on him, but he’s a guy who’s made some of the biggest jumps just in the past week and a half to two weeks.”
For instance, Hagen has seen improvement in Bowen’s vision and his point of focus.
“First few practices, he was like a backyard football guy,” Hagen said. “Ball was snapped and he was looking for the ball and he’s getting blocked. Then we finally got his eyes corrected a little bit and he’s been a much, much better player the last few practices.”
Hagen and company need that progress to continue.
At the very least, Bowen figures to add depth to a largely unproven cast of players up front. But the Hoosiers will need help along their defensive line this year.
Bowen already looks the part of a big-time contributor.
Now Indiana needs him to play the part.
“We’re still taking baby steps with him,” Hagen said, “but I think he’s a guy that’s got a skill set where he could help us.”