In Tampa Bay’s 41-34 loss at New York, the Buccaneers failed to sack quarterback Eli Manning once despite the fact that he attempted 51 passes on Sunday. That didn’t sit well with any of the Bucs defensive linemen that rushed Manning, nor did it sit well with Da’Quan Bowers, who has been on the team’s PUP (physically unable to perform) list while rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon he suffered in April.
“It was definitely motivation for me,” Bowers said. “Any time I see my brothers out there in battle it definitely hits a nerve. I want to be out there going through everything with them. I think when I get back it will be an extra little burst for the D-line so we can free up some other players and we can make some more plays on the quarterback.”
The Bucs are hopeful that Bowers can return to the field in October after he spends the first six weeks of the season on the sidelines. When he comes off the PUP list, a more educated Bowers will join Tampa Bay’s pass rush.
“Being that it’s a possibility for me to play this year – it hits home with me,” Bowers said. “A lot of people said that when the injury happened that I was definitely done for the year. It was not a good situation that it happened, but it couldn’t have happened at a better time. It gave me enough time to rehab and get on the right path to make a comeback this year. If it had happened in training camp, I would have been lost for the whole year.
“It taught me a valuable lesson. I think I have become more studious of the game by watching more game film and watching practice. It’s helped the mental aspect of my game because I’m not able to do a lot. Being in meetings and taking a whole other shot at the playbook has been beneficial to me. Basically, I go to meetings with the team, watch practice and I try to help the players make corrections. I watch A.C. (Adrian Clayborn), I watch Gerald [McCoy], I watch everybody in practice and try to help them with the little things. I break down film with the coaches and do whatever I can help the D-line when it comes to game day.”
Despite not being able to practice with Tampa Bay’s new coaching staff due to the fact that he was injured so early in the offseason, he has established a great rapport with front seven coach Bryan Cox and defensive line coach Randy Melvin, who have encouraged him to watch more film and work on the mental side of football.
“They’ve been really helpful and they have been pushing me to come in and watch the film and take the mental reps and watch the practice footage and see what players are doing wrong and help correct them so I won’t have the same problems when I come back,” Bowers said. “It’s one thing to be behind and not be able to practice and be on the field, but at least I can stay in tune with the game plan and be in meetings for adjustments and correcting our game film and after practices.
“I’ve become a student of the game by learning how to break film down and learning how to take mental reps,” Bowers said. “I go through the footsteps in my mind and go through my assignments in my mind. When I come back I feel like I will be more in tune with the playbook and the game plans than I’ve ever been.”
In Raheem Morris’ defense last year, Bowers, who was Tampa Bay’s second-round pick, posted 30 tackles (19 solo), five tackles for loss, five passes defensed, 1.5 sacks and one fumble recovery.
“I thought I made a lot of progress, but then again, there was a ton of progress that had to be made,” Bowers said. “There are some things I had to learn and I’m still learning. That’s the difference between this league and college. You have players that reach their pinnacle before others and I haven’t reached mine yet. I’m still learning and trying to get better each and every day. I’m learning the entire defense – not only my job, but everybody’s job.”
Bowers led the nation in college in sacks in 2010 with 15.5 and was tied for the lead with 26 tackles for loss. Although he has yet to practice a single down in Tampa Bay’s new defense, which is blend of the systems used by head coach Greg Schiano and defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan, the second-year defensive end already loves it.
“This new defense is definitely a benefit to me,” Bowers said. “I’ll be playing some four technique, playing between the tackles and attacking – it’s real similar to the style of defense we ran at Clemson. I think I have the size and the build for this defense. A lot of guys don’t like to play between the tackles, but I don’t have a problem with it because of my size and strength, and the size of my legs and the power that I play with.”
Although Bowers still weighs 286 pounds, which was his playing weight last year, he has transformed his upper body in the weight room and looks more muscular under the guidance of new strength and conditioning coach Jay Butler.
“Being that I couldn’t do anything lower body for a while, I was definitely hitting the weights hard,” Bowers said. “I asked Coach Jay to give me a plan and take me through the process. I’ve been lifting ever since two weeks after my injury.”
Although Bowers will miss the first six weeks of the 2012 regular season, he was able to play in all 16 games a year ago despite having offseason surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus. That injury was expected to cause Bowers to miss part of his rookie season, and the questions surrounding his knee caused the former top 10 pick to slide into the second round where Tampa Bay selected him with the 52nd overall pick.
Some NFL teams expected him to have immediate and long-term ramifications to his knee following the surgery, but Bowers didn’t experience any issues at all in 2011.
“I had no problems with my knee last year,” Bowers said. “A lot of people blew it out of proportion. People were making a big deal of it without reason. Todd did a great job of monitoring it and keeping it real simple for me. I was almost pissed at him every day because I couldn’t do much, but he did a great job. Mark Dominik did a great job for me. Raheem did everything he said he would do to make sure I was ready to play and make it through the whole season.”
Bowers notched his 1.5 sacks against Carolina on December 4 while starting for the injured Michael Bennett at left defensive end, and he was excited that his first NFL sack came against Cam Newton, who was sacked three times in Tampa Bay’s 16-10 season-opening win two weeks ago.
“We kind of joked about it before the draft last year,” Bowers said. “Cam and I built a friendship through the draft process, and we played them in college. They got me at Clemson, but it was my turn to get him. We joked about it. I think I made a statement that game that I could play in this league where a lot of people said I wouldn’t be ready for Game 1 or Game 12 or 13. I didn’t have problems injury-wise.”
While Bowers missed his chance to sack Newton in Week 1, he will have another shot at him in Carolina on November 18 about a month after his expected to return to action for the Buccaneers. When Bowers takes the field he will do so as a student of the game, watching game film from the Buccaneers new defense to former and current NFL legendary pass rushers in an effort to hone his craft.
“In this league there are so many different guys that bring so many different things to the game,” Bowers said. “You definitely have to watch guys like Michael Strahan. He and I are similarly built and he played on the left side. Reggie White – guys like that, too. You also have to watch guys from the new era like DeMarcus Ware and Dwight Freeney. You want to watch everybody and see what is working for different people and see what they are doing against the guy you are playing against next week and see what worked for them. I can’t wait to see what’s going to work for me.”
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