BOURBONNAIS - It has been almost impossible not to notice cornerback Zack Bowman in the Bears' first four training-camp practices.
All you have to do is follow the ball.
The fifth-round pick from 2008 is starting at cornerback in place of injured Charles Tillman, and he was in the middle of the action again Monday afternoon.
In 7-on-7 action, Bowman arrived at the last instant to knock away a Jay Cutler pass intended for tight end Greg Olsen deep down the sideline. In 11-on-11, his tight coverage prevented another long Cutler pass to rookie Juaquin Iglesias from being completed.
Bowman also committed an obvious pass-interference penalty against Devin Hester when he jarred the Bears' No. 1 wide receiver from behind before the ball arrived. But he has more than held his own so far, even against Hester.
In the first full-pads workout of camp Saturday night, Bowman stole a Cutler pass from Hester. On a deep post pattern that appeared to be a sure touchdown, the former Nebraska Cornhusker arrived at the last instant to make a diving interception.
He drew some good-natured trash talk from Hester.
"He said I was lucky," an amused Bowman said.
"Were you lucky?" he was asked.
"No, I wasn't lucky," he said. "I was on top (of it) and I was ready to go. I saw Devin take off and I saw the ball in the air. I just had to make a play. I mean, I'm fast, too. He's just a little bit faster, so I always have to be at the top of my game."
Bowman has been at that level going back to OTA practices at Halas Hall, according to Bears coach Lovie Smith.
"He stood out throughout all of the off-season work," Smith said. "Then he made a couple plays in our first (training-camp) practice. We're seeing that type of consistent play from him. He's taking advantage of an opportunity.
"Charles Tillman is out, and we're wanting some of those players to step up. Zack Bowman definitely (has)."
Bowman made an immediate impression the first time he set foot on the field in a regular-season game, last Oct. 19 against the Minnesota Vikings.
He recovered a fumbled punt in the end zone for a touchdown and, even after suffering a torn biceps that landed him on injured reserve for the remainder of the season, he intercepted a pass in the final minute of the game that preserved the Bears' 48-41 victory.
The season-ending injury spoiled a storybook debut, but it hasn't adversely affected Bowman this year.
"It was devastating," he said, "but it was what it was. I dealt with it. I'd been waiting for my shot and got it, but I just figured I'd come a long way already and wasn't going to let the injury hold me back."
Bowman has had a lot of experience in coming back from injuries. He was considered a potential first-round draft pick after his first year at Nebraska (2005) following two years at New Mexico Military Institute.
But he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in the fall of 2006 and missed the whole season. He came back for spring practice in 2007 but suffered a ruptured patellar tendon that marred his senior season, and he fell all the way to the fifth round in the 2008 draft.
Now it appears the Bears got a steal. Even if Tillman returns for the start of the regular season from his back surgery three weeks ago, Bowman could challenge Nate Vasher for the other starting cornerback spot.
Jon Hoke, the Bears' new defensive-backs coach, is more reserved than others regarding Bowman, but he also has seen some positive signs.
"He's made improvement," Hoke said. "Since we started OTAs, he's continued to get better on a week-to-week basis. He's taken advantage of his opportunities. When he's been in position, he's made the play."
But Hoke isn't ready to hand the 6-foot-1, 193-pound Bowman a starting job yet.
"Considering we haven't played a game, I'd say that's jumping the gun a little bit," Hoke said. "When you go to a game situation, things change, and so I'm anxious to see how he does in the preseason games."
So is everyone who has been watching him practice the past couple of months.