Injuries are a certainty in football and Tampa Bay has certainly had their fair share this season. Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris’ “next man up” theory looks like it will be tested once again Sunday with Da’Quan Bowers likely to get his first start of the season.
With left defensive end Michael Bennett (groin) doubtful for Sunday’s road trip to Tennessee, Raheem Morris told the media Friday afternoon he is looking forward to seeing what the Bucs’ second-round draft pick can do in a full-time role.
“[This game] is a great opportunity for Da’Quan Bowers,” Morris said. “He's been coming on and getting better. He's been a bright spot as far as what he has been able to do in picking up the system and the rush. For those defensive linemen – like we talked about before – they just keep getting better and better throughout the season.
“To see him and Adrian Clayborn get continually better as well as Brian Price is a good sign. We've just got to get all those guys together at once; get McCoy back and some of those types of guys. But I’m really feeling good about where they're going and how they are developing.”
The former Clemson Tiger and ACC Defensive Player of the Year has shown glimpses of what made him projected before the draft by some as the possible overall No. 1 before a knee injury caused his stock to drop. So far in 2011 Bowers has 15 tackles with five QB pressures and one fumble recovery.
Although he led the nation in sacks at Clemson, Bowers is still seeking his first NFL QB takedown. Part of the lack of sack production has been because of limited reps on passing downs, Morris said Friday.
“We've been using him primarily against the run. He's gotten some limited snaps on third down. But his power really shows up big time when it comes to the pass rush. He has great power with people running at him when he wants to use it. But when it really [shows up] is when he uses his speed and power on some of these [offensive] tackles. You can definitely see the big difference in power and speed and collective bulk.”
Another key rookie contributor on the defense is third-round pick Mason Foster, who has stepped into the role vacated when Tampa Bay decided to cut ties with six-year veteran linebacker Barrett Ruud. Morris also took time Friday to share his thoughts on how Ruud’s heir at middle linebacker has played so far this season.
“He still has a ways to go,” Morris said. “He's like a quarterback. He's picked up a little defense this year, and hopefully every year he's here he will pick up more and get better and better. He's played well up until this point. He's had a few little dull games but other than that he has played primarily well when he has been out there. He has also had a couple injuries this year.
“But I really love where he's going and where his development is going. We're fortunate to have a guy like Shelton Quarles in the building that can talk to him and teach him to be a Mike. Everybody needs those guys. Barrett [Ruud] had that guy [and] Shelton had that guy in Hardy Nickerson. It's kind of been a tradition so you want to get him around some guys like that to get him better."
Foster leads the Buccaneers in tackles with 73 stops, and has added two sacks despite missing significant parts of some games and dealing with limited mobility because of two ankle sprains.
Apparently pleased with Foster's overall performance this season, Morris couldn’t pinpoint anything he's had much trouble with other than injuries.
“The thing that comes to my mind is the injury deal with the two ankle [sprains] back-to-back. He's a tough kid so he's going to lie to me like they all do. We found that out which is a good quality and I love that about those guys.
“The toughness and the pop,” Morris said. “That's been well-documented and well-noticed. That’s the stuff you love about him.”