TAMPA, Fla. -- When he came here in 2011, there was hope that Da'Quan Bowers would blossom into one of the league’s best defensive ends.
Now, he is auditioning just to prove he belongs in the NFL. The final two games of the season mark Bowers’ last chance to show something. He will be a free agent after this season, and this is his last chance to convince the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to re-sign him. It’s also a chance to show other teams what he can do.
Bowers, who moved from defensive end to defensive tackle this season, probably will get more playing time in the final two games than he has all season. That’s because All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
The 2-12 Bucs obviously are out of the playoff picture, but they will be watching Bowers closely, because they have to make a decision on whether or not to keep him around.
"You like to see a guy who can be physical at the point of attack," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "We’ll probably get more runs at that position than we have all season because of Gerald not playing. He’ll have an opportunity to show his teammates and his coaches what he’s able to do in an extended period. We saw a little of that last week when Gerald went down early. [Bowers] got in a few more snaps and he found out the importance of conditioning. We need to see if he can pass rush, we need to see him go down in and down out and really do the things we ask him to do in run defense as well. It’s a great opportunity for him. He’ll be able to showcase that he’s capable of being a quality NFL starter."
Once talked about as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, Bowers’ stock slipped because of concerns about his knee. The Bucs took a shot on him in the second round. But Bowers was a non-factor, recording just 5.5 sacks in his first three seasons.
But when coach Lovie Smith arrived this season, the expectations for Bowers weren’t the same as before. Gradually, Bowers was moved from defensive end to defensive tackle, and he’s handled the transition well.
"It’s a totally different position even though you’re playing on the defensive line," Frazier said. "The blocking schemes are a lot different than when you’re a defensive end. Sometimes there are two people blocking you, with a guard and a tackle versus a tight end or a tackle at defensive end. Based on our needs, he fits the situation. He did a good enough job for us a week ago. We’ve been playing him inside throughout the season. We’ve also had him outside. But, at this point, he’s probably exclusively an inside player for us because of the circumstances."
The circumstances are that Tampa Bay is light on healthy defensive tackles. That means Bowers will get a lot of playing time, and he will have a chance to influence whether the Bucs decide to keep him around.