The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have addressed their biggest need and holes on their roster with the selection of Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers after selecting Adrian Clayborn with their first-round pick. Clayborn is slated to be the Bucs right defensive end and Bowers will play on the left side. Tampa Bay head coach and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris wanted the Buccaneers to build a bigger and more physical line. With two large defensive ends in Bowers and Clayborn, Tampa Bay has definitely built a larger defensive line.
“It’s awesome – that’s why you go out and get two defensive line coaches,” Morris said. “You talk about the investment that you make in your coaches, and I wish you could see the chest bumps and the high-fives from the scouting department as well as the coaching staff running down the hall when the selection was made amongst the family here.”
The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Bowers slid in the draft due to concerns about a knee injury that could impact his long-term NFL career. Early in the year many were projecting Bowers to be the number one overall pick in the draft before the knee injury, which is a torn meniscus, caused his stock to fall drastically.
“We just picked Da’Quan Bowers with pick 51,” said Bucs general manager Mark Dominik. “I’m sure there’s a lot of questions you may have [about the knee]. To start out, this kid’s a great character kid. That means you’re going to get another young man who we’re really proud of off the field. He was a captain at Clemson – a player that’s obviously been extremely productive. He is a guy that is going to line up and play our left end position. We feel like he’s got a lot of production in him. Obviously, we’ve put a lot of research. I think every club in the National Football League has put a lot of time into this selection, into this type of pick. For me, the value for this pick was too strong and I feel like we’re at a spot on the defensive line where really as an organization, where we’re building this thing. I felt like it was worth this selection. I’m looking forward to you all meeting Da’Quan. I think you’ll see that here is a young man that’s going to work his tail off to be the best he can be. No matter if he was drafted number one overall or 51 overall, he was going to provide the same emotional effort into becoming the greatest football player he can be."
The Bucs obviously feel the knee will not be a long-term threat to his career. Dominik said that Bowers would not need more surgery on his knee.
“No,” Dominik said. “We don’t see that. What we will do, obviously, again, we’re going to do everything we can to get him on the field when it’s appropriate to get him on the football field. Obviously, our intentions are to provide the package for him in terms of medically to give him a chance to get back on the football field. But I’m not going to rush him back onto the football field, either. We want to get him as healthy as we can and then we want him to play here for as long as he can.”
The Bucs said they won't rush Bowers to the field and that they will take their time to make sure that Bowers rehabs his knee effectively. Dominik believes that Bowers will be able to play in 2011.
“Well right now, the idea behind it is ideally rehabbing and continuing to rehab, like he’s been doing,” Dominik said. “That’s what he’s done since he had his surgery and he had his pro day. He’s been rehabbing since then and is going to continue the rehab process until we’re comfortable putting him on the football field. When that day comes, we will absolutely put him on the football field.
“As long as we’re having football this year, I mean, that’s the mindset. Now, I won’t put a time date or template on when that date’s going to be. We’re going to do what’s in his best interest. But at the same point, we feel like he’s going to be on the football field this year.”
Dominik said the team was prepared for Bowers to slide to their second-round pick, and Dominik told himself and some other staffers after the first round ended that if Bowers lasted to their pick at number 51 overall that Tampa Bay would select Bowers.
“I think you have to prepare for it,” Dominik said. “I mean, I certainly did going to be last night trying to talk about what would we do at 51 if Da’Quan Bowers is there. I know what I answered to myself last night before we actually started the draft this morning, and I stayed true to that answer today.”
Bowers is an explosive athlete that offers excellent speed and great size. In 2010, Bowers led college football in sacks with 15.5 after a mediocre sophomore season. He fell one sack short of setting the school record. He also had 26 tackles for loss with 67 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble. Bowers' tackle-for-loss total was second-best in the nation to Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan.
“Every kid kind of makes that kind of transformation in college,” Morris said. “It’s just a matter of when you make it and when you decide to get out there and play and how fast you can play and all of those other things. He comes from a great family. He just lost his dad. He’s very religious. He’s a captain. He has impeccable character and that stuff that we talk about. He’ll bring some of that stuff for us. I’m really fired up about the young man.”
Bowers had knee surgery after the season and did not run the 40-yard dash for NFL scouts at the combine. He ran a 4.84 time at his pro day and there are some concerns about the long-term health of his knee. Because of that his stock slipped dramatically. Some reports said that Bowers was suffering from a degenerative condition in the knee and other reports said he needed micro-fracture surgery, which is a scary proposition for NFL teams. Dominik said that neither conclusion was the belief of the Buccaneers medical staff.
Bowers could play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense and with Tampa Bay he will play left defensive end, a position he lined up at for Clemson. In 2007, the Bucs selected Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams with the fourth-overall pick. Bowers wore Adams' number 93 in honor of his good friend, who helped recruit him to Clemson. After 13.5 sacks in just over two years with Tampa Bay, general manager Mark Dominik traded Adams to the Chicago Bears for a second-round pick. Adams tragically passed away in his sleep in January of 2010 due to a cardiac issue. Adams was a mentor to Bowers before his passing. Bowers also lost his father, Dennis, in the summer before last season.
“I’m sure when he gets here he’ll have more to comment about their relationship and how he really respected Gaines and all of those types of things,” Morris said. “To see a young man in this day and age be able to talk about those things and be as diverse and as cultural as he is it’s very interesting to me, especially when he plays as well as he does on Saturdays.”
After being one of the top recruits in the nation, Bowers recorded four sacks combined in his freshman and sophomore seasons. The Clemson product had three sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore. A big reason for Bowers breakout was his dropping 20 pounds in the offseason. The weight loss allowed Bowers to play with more quickness and athleticism.
For his breakout junior campaign Bowers won the Bronko Nagurski and Ted Hendricks Awards after the 2010 season. Bowers has a combination of size and speed that has drawn comparisons to Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.
Bowers was the fouth unanimous All-American selection in Clemson history. He also was the South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year in South Carolina as a senior in high school.
“I’m really fired up about this pick,” Morris said. “I’m really fired up about this opportunity to go out there and get a chance to see a great player come to Tampa.
You talk about a guy who played the whole season, you talk about a guy who was arguably a top-10 pick, the risk-reward for us to come and be lucky enough and fortunate enough for him to get there, but it was something that we coveted and we went and got him. Mark told himself last night he planned to prepare for it, he talked to me about it this morning, we felt good taking him, and that’s what we did. He’s a left end, which is a great fit right now, for especially what we did yesterday and he’ll come in here and provide that power and strength from the left side but also the pass rush. I believe he had 15.5 sacks this year. He gives you that upstanding quality that Kevin Carter gave people in St. Louis, that Michael Strahan gave the Giants for years, and that Randy White was able to do when he was out there for a little bit. That big physical presence, and obviously risk-reward, and we were willing to take that risk."
For the second straight season, Dominik and Morris drafted the same position consecutively. In 2010 they selected defensive tackle Gerald McCoy in the first round and defensive tackle Brian Price with their first pick in the second round. Along with Bowers and Clayborn, Tampa Bay has Michael Bennett, Alex Magee, Kyle Moore, among others on the roster at defensive end.
When Bowers will be healthy enough to compete for a starting job at left defensive end is unknown at this time. Dominik dismissed the notion that Bowers NFL career would be limited to one contract.
“I would say it’s premature to say he’s just a one contract player,” Dominik said. “I do feel that way and at the same point we’ll manage him as well as possible to prolong his career as long as he can be in the National Football League and I’m hoping that we’re going to be talking about him for a long time in Tampa Bay.”
Morris added that he wasn't concerned about Bowers being a one-contract player, either.
“Everything is based on competition,” Morris said. “We’re all competitive people here. I heard the term one-year contract – I’m a one-[contract] coach, too. Let’s go to work, baby.”
– Scott Reynolds, Bob LeVine, Andrew Scavelli and James Cifu contributed to this story