At 29 years old, Dwayne Bowe is not getting any younger.
And after a season like 2013, when he approached career lows with 57 catches, 673 yards and five touchdowns, it might be tempting to give up hope that he’ll ever live up to his five-year, $56 million contract.
Just don’t tell that to Bowe, who has been catching almost everything during organized team activities the past month, even when defenders are draped all over him.
“I think Dwayne came back in phenomenal shape, that’s one thing,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “It looks like it out here. He’s really moving around well. Look forward to getting to camp where it actually counts, but he’s in the right frame of mind.”
Bowe, who maintained throughout his rocky 2013 season that he was fine posting lower numbers as long as the Chiefs were winning, is saying all the right things again.
“I’m just trying to be a leader all around, on and off the field or whatever it takes,” Bowe said. “Staying late, doing extra or showing the guys how to do it. Even in the study room, I get in my group, staying later, just showing them how to do it and how to be in control of it. That’s my main focus this year.”
As it relates to his play in OTAs, perhaps this is a good time to remember that yes, these practices are non-padded, and yes, it’s much harder to make a contested catch when there’s a real threat of taking a hit. But these practices are also about getting a jump start on continuity for the fall, and there are some early signs that Bowe may be primed for a bounce-back season.
For one, Bowe — who said he played between 212 and 214 pounds last season — said he is a little slimmer than he was at this point last year.
“Right now I’m about 210 and I’m moving good and I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life,” Bowe said. “The way they’ve been going, it’s only going to get better.”
It’s no coincidence, either, that Bowe hired a nutritionist and personal trainer this offseason for the first time in his career.
“Basically, he changed his routine,” receivers coach David Culley said. “At this point in his career, he decided ‘Hey look, I want to play a long time.’ And in order to play a long time in this league, you’ve got to have yourself right, physically. And he’s done that.
“He’s a little bit lighter … and that weight’s going to fluctuate a little bit. But if we can keep him down at that weight, I think he’s going to be very productive for us.”
But for Bowe to be productive, his quarterback has to get him the ball. And while Alex Smith has a well-earned reputation for being risk-averse, he has continued in OTAs to take more shots downfield and trust his receivers — primarily Bowe.
“I think it’s two things: I think he’s more familiar with all of his receivers, Dwayne included, and he’s more familiar with the offense,” Reid said. “They all are. So, you hope that that’s the next step that takes place there, where they can all pick their game up even a little bit better than they were last year.”
On one play Thursday, for example, Smith dropped back, saw Bowe running along the sideline — while covered — and threw to him anyway. Single coverage is often as good as open in the NFL, and when the cornerback failed to turn his head, Bowe stepped in front of him and hauled in the pass.
Later on in practice, Smith hit Bowe on what looked to be a curl with cornerback Ron Parker draped all over him.
“We’re doing well right now,” Bowe said. “We only can get better with time and that’s what OTAs are for, to come down with the timing and just be consistent. … Last year everyone was getting a feel for it. Now it’s like a brother-in-law. He’s doing great, and that’s all you can ask for.”
In the Chiefs’ 45-44 first-round playoff loss to the Colts in January, Smith completed 30 of 46 passes for 378 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Bowe caught eight passes for 150 yards and a touchdown.
The Chiefs decided against adding another outside threat in the draft, so the task of improving one of the league’s least-productive receiving corps will fall on returnees like Bowe, who appears to be serious about proving he still has enough left in the tank to live up to that big-money contract.
“Like I said, every day is something new you’ve got to learn,” Bowe said. “If you’re not here, you’re definitely missing out. Me being here is a definite learning experience, and it’s getting me in shape.”