DeKALB - Ross Bowers said he knows what he has to do better while he prepares for his second season as the NIU quarterback.
Sure, there's limiting turnovers. But the first thing Bowers mentioned is becoming a better leader.
"The quarterback position is someone that gets looked at and needs to be the leader of the offense and hopefully the team," Bowers said. "It just wasn't that for me. I wasn't a positive voice, a driving force to help us win games it really felt like. It's something I took personally and wanted to fix. And it starts with my day-to-day routine. Just trying to become a better quarterback, a better person, and really the best version of myself possible."
The senior transfer is back under center for the Huskies this year. Last year he had to beat out incumbent Marcus Childers for the starting job, but still ended up splitting time with him.
Bowers started eight games, played in nine, health with concussion issues and turned the ball over more than he threw touchdowns passes.
Bowers said the offseason involved a lot of soul searching.
"It's been life-changing for me since the end of last season with many tough conversations, many hard times and moments, but it's what has helped me get to this point," Bowers said. "I feel ready to go and take over as a leader and to have confidence."
The end result, he said, is better leadership under center as the Huskies prepare to take on Buffalo in the season opener Nov. 4 at Huskie Stadium.
Not only did Bowers say he's more comfortable as a leader, but he's more comfortable in the offense as well as he enters his second year in the system under second-year coach Thomas Hammock and offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness.
"It's made all the difference, to be honest," Bowers said. "Not having to learn an entire new way to talk and different lingo and this and that. Plays are pretty much the same. There's not much that's changed in football. It's just what you call everything and how we get to those calls. It's been so much easier for me to stack my previous knowledge on top of the experience I'm getting."
Eidsness said that last year Bowers really didn't have a lot of leeway in the offense in terms of checking the play or altering anything else.
This year, however, the experienced signal caller will have more flexibility.
"There's a lot of freedom I like to give the quarterbacks once we are confident in what they are able to do," Eidsness said. "Last year just seeing everything, big picture-wise, it was a lot narrower. Now, second year in the program, and really he didn't get here until June last year. So not that he's progressed at a bad rate, it just wasn't a ton of time."
Bowers led an offense that averaged 22.8 points per game last year. He threw for 2,130 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 57.8% of his passes. The expectations were much higher when he came into the program from Cal, where he started 13 games over two seasons, including 3,039 yards in 2017 with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He completed 59% of his passes. He didn't play after the opener in 2018.
Eidsness said Bowers realizes he doesn't have to go for a big play every time, particularly when he's under pressure.
"It just has to be efficient," Eidsness said. "You have three plays to get 10 yards. So how are we going to get those 10 yards. If you're patient and efficient in getting those 10 yards, it will open up a big play. That's the big thing, you're not looking for the home run on every play."
Bowers said limiting mistakes in general and turnovers specifically needs to happen.
"It's hard to win games when you're throwing interceptions or fumbling or not on the field producing," Bowers said. "That's definitely something I've taken into consideration. Ball security is the No. 1 thing. That needs to be put on a premium. and that's just studying your plays, studying the defense, and knowing what the checks are and just the ins and outs of what we're trying to accomplish with each play."
Bowers also said he's more comfortable with the receivers this year, crediting the work the group has put in during the offseason. He said even when his throws are off receivers are still making plays.
Eidsness credited that to the receivers having another year in the system. Last year, Bowers was comfortable with throwing to Cole Tucker and tight end Daniel Crawford, but this year he said there shouldn't be the need for a security blanket.
"Last year he could trust Cole and he could trust Craw," Eidsness said. "Now it's just spending those time with those guys, throwing. They understand what he's looking for in those looks, what he's thinking. Last year quite honestly there were quite a few guys that didn't make the adjustments that they needed to make."
Hammock said the basic offense won't change this year. How it is run, however, should.
"I don't anticipate the offense changing," Hammock said. "I anticipate the offense being better and more effective and ore explosive. I think we have a quarterback that understands our system. ... I think he's going to take more command and we're going to give him more flexibility to give guys direction. I think what you are going to see is you've got guys around him that can make plays and we're excited for where the offense is headed."
Bowers pointed to a play Sunday during a scrimmage that he said how much the offense works and how it is proactive in taking care of any perceived shortcomings.
"Tyrice RIchice makes a great play and almost scores, then he happens to fumble," Bowers said. "The offense may be a little biased, we think maybe the ground caused the fumble. But the defense had the rep of the day with that fumble. But literally the next drive, he catches a ball, takes it, great ball security. Then after that drive, he goes and works on ball security for an hour during the rest of the scrimmage."
Bowers said with the receivers on top of their game, and him on top of his, the offense should have a bounceback year.
"I can bring people together," Bowers said. "I have a leadership quality that really motivates and inspires people. It elevates everyone's game around me. When I've been on top of my game that's what it has done, I'm hoping we can do that this year."