Tampa Bay has lost their fair share of linemen this year, but as of Wednesday the Bucs will start to determine if they’ll get one back.
Da’Quan Bowers tore his Achilles tendon in May during Tampa Bay’s off-season training program and has been out since.
The Bucs placed the second-year defensive end on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list at the start of regular season, meaning Bowers would be able to return to practice at the Week 6 mark. Tampa Bay has the option to start playing him immediately, or wait up to three more weeks (Week 9) before making the decision to activate Bowers to the 53-man roster, release him, or place him on IR.
Head coach Greg Schiano said Monday that the Bucs will ease Bowers back into the routine, once he was cleared by doctors.
“There are different phases of his rehab,” Schiano said. “One is where the post surgical, where it is just kind of waiting. Then it is the training room and then it’s out on the grass where he is working with our trainers and our strength coach, running and pushing things. Now here comes the fourth part, and that is literally going out and playing – and that’s different. The torquing and the twisting and all the things you got to do as a defensive lineman. So we need to see how he responds to doing that and then we will act accordingly.
“As I said, if there is any question we are going to wait. We are not going to put him in harm’s way. He is excited to play. He is champing at the bits. We got to hold him back until we know it is all good.”
Tuesday, Bowers flew to see a specialist in Pensacola to get the final verdict that he was allowed back onto the practice field at One Buc and Wednesday he practiced with his team for the first time in almost five months.
If Tampa Bay is able to activate Bowers immediately, it will be a big boost to the defensive line that is without DE Adrian Clayborn for the remainder of the season with a knee injury. During his post practice press conference, Schiano said the Bucs will use the 21-day evaluation process to determine the best decision for when
Bowers returns and that the defensive end has kept himself in great shape.
“I think it’s a medical decision,” Schiano said. “I really do. I think his feedback, which he’s been very good at, I do have to say that I think Da’Quan, in his rehab, has been unbelievable. And not only rehabbing his Achilles but what he’s done with the rest of his body while he’s had the opportunity. I always talk to our guys, when they do have an unfortunate injury like that, there’s an opportunity there as well. You’re Achilles is hurt but your whole upper body is fine and there’s still a lot of things you can do cardiovascularly, and he’s done that and he looks great.
“We just need to get him feeling comfortable and get him back in football shape. I don’t care how many sleds you push or treadmills you’re on and all that stuff, it’s different playing the game. But I am hopeful that somewhere in this window, he’s going to be able to come back and help us and then for the rest of the year help us.”
An Achilles tear can take up to a year to fully heal, and the fact that Bowers is returning to the practice field months after sustaining the injury demonstrates the hard work and commitment both the Bucs’ staff and Bowers have had during his time away from the field.
Bowers said in the locker room Wednesday that it was a great day all around, but there is a little bit of nervousness involved as well. Luckily for the former Clemson standout, the last 24 hours had gone by pretty quickly.
“There’s always that ‘first time,’” Bowers said. “I actually got home kind of late last night from the doctors so I kind of went home, said my prayers, thought about what I had to do and went to bed with the attitude like ‘it’s time to get it.’”
Schiano said that although Bowers looked good, he was limited in his workload, and he doesn’t believe he will suit up for the Saints this Sunday.
“I don’t think - I mean, there’s a chance, but that would not be what we want to do,” Schiano said. “I think we have to make sure that we go very deliberately with this and do it and then see how it feels and do it some more. It was a minimal workload today. We’re going to ease our way into this thing.”
It is a very real possibility that even if Bowers is activated soon, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and George Johnson could still be kept in the rotation given the delicate nature of Bower’s injury.
Bowers said that he didn’t foresee any setbacks, but it was Schiano’s decision when he will be on the active roster. Regardless of when that occurs, Bowers is thrilled to be back.
“It felt good,” Bowers said. “It felt good to be back on the field, felt good to sweat, felt good to put my gear on, felt good to wear (football) pants.”