The Bucs let last year's leading sacker, Michael Bennett, leave in free agency last spring, and have handed the position to third-year defensive end Da'Quan Bowers. The second-round pick in 2011 knows the pressure is on and is ready to step up and become a defensive weapon.
A segment of Bucs fans are still filling the Internet message boards and sports radio talk shows with the opinion that Tampa Bay should should add depth at the defensive line, particularly at the defensive end position.
However, the Buccaneers front office obviously doesn't agree, and appears ready to enter the 2013 campaign hoping that Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers are the long-term solution to generate a pass rush that has been lacking over the previous few seasons, evidenced by just 27 sacks in 2012 and 26 in 2011. With a total of three sacks between the two in 2012, it’s a huge gamble, but one Tampa Bay is ready to make.
One of the two rush ends, Bowers, understands the pressure and the expectations, but is confident he can produce.
“I'm looking to be dominant,” Bowers told the media, including PewterReport.com on Tuesday. “I take the responsibility for that. Anything less than double-digit sacks is a failure for the season. … I think the way Coach [Greg] Schiano has the scheme set up, and my capabilities, and having Gerald [McCoy] draw all the attention, it could be a whole lot easier to get double-digits sacks. You just have to work as a unit and not have individual rush plans – just work as a combined unit.”
Bowers has shown flashes of potential over his first two years in the NFL, and appears to have no lingering effect from a knee concern that saw his draft stock plummet prior to the 2011 NFL Draft. At one point, some mock drafts had the former Clemson star projected as the overall No. 1 selection.
The Buccaneers, concerned somewhat over the knee issue, brought Bowers along slowly his rookie season one that saw him notch just 1.5 sacks. Last offseason Bowers suffered an Achilles injury that cost him part of the season, as Tampa Bay placed him on the PUP (physically unable to perform). Splitting time with Michael Bennett, Bowers played in 10 games and recorded 25 tackles and three sacks. Bennett was allowed to walk in free agency, and Bowers become No. 1 on the depth chart by default.
Schiano thinks Bowers is ready to take on the role, but knows there will be challenges for a player who has been credited with just a few official starts in the NFL.
“He’s got tremendous athletic ability – and he can twist his upper body,” Schiano said. “For a man any size – forget his size – his legs can be going that way and his upper body can turned totally to the side and that’s what allows you to become a really good pass rusher. What we need to do with Da’Quan is – he has not played any consistent amount – so if he wants to become anything more than just a situational pass rusher he’s got to grind through it. He’s got to go through the pain of being an every down player because you play, six or seven plays in a row on the defensive front, that is hard stuff, especially when they’re throwing the ball and you're rushing the passer.
“The pass protector is just kind of sitting there waiting on you – I don’t want to make their jobs try to sound easy – but with the defensive linemen, it’s like a darned fist fight. And he won’t get that until training camp. And I think this training camp will be critical for him to establish what he’s going to be for us. Is he going to be an every down player for us? I sure am banking on it. But you have to do it. So the plan is there but he has to go out and do it.”
Bowers knows the defensive line will be in the spotlight, and the pressure in on for the defensive line.
“The expectations for the defensive line are very high,” Bowers said. “Not only from the coaches but from myself because we know what we’re capable of doing. Adrian’s hungry, I’m hungry, Gerald’s hungry, Daniel [Te’o Neshiem] is hungry, Gary [Gibson] is hungry. We’re all hungry to get together and work on this game plan and this rush plan. Last [year] I think we had a lot of individual rushes. Hopefully this year we work as a team and the numbers with skyrocket. Also having that extra millisecond to hold the ball up is going to be a major upside.”
Bowers, a South Carolina native, understands that the pass defense – the pass rush in particular – was the team’s Achilles heel for the most part last season, and says it will take solid play from the defensive line for the Bucs to be successful in 2013, regardless of who is playing in the defensive backfield.
“They go hand-in-hand,” Bowers said. “Offensive linemen and defensive linemen, secondary and defensive linemen – it all goes hand-in-hand. Without the pass rush, guys distracting the quarterback just a little bit, without collapsing those pockets, he’s got all day to look down the field to find the open receiver. Those guys are great, but they can only cover for so long.”
As the 2013 season rapidly approaches, Bowers is looking forward putting past issues behind him and thinks the defensive line can be a strength.
“Oh definitely,” Bowers said. “In my rookie year, I had injuries [and] Gerald [McCoy] had injuries. Last year I had injuries, [Adrian Clayborn] had injuries. I’m looking forward to see what this full defensive line can do when everyone’s healthy. Two years into the system we know what’s going on, we know the game; we know what to expect. I think it’s going to be scary for offenses.”
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