TAMPA, Fla. -- Help could be on the way for Tampa Bay's erratic pass rush.
Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers practiced for the first time this season on Wednesday, opening a three-week window in which the Buccaneers will be able to evaluate the second-year pro and determine if he'll be able to return from a torn right Achilles tendon that's sidelined him since May.
If Bowers isn't activated by Nov. 7 to the 53-man roster, he has to be placed on injured reserve and sit out the remainder of the season.
"It felt good to be back on the field, it felt good to sweat," Bowers said. "It's been a tough road, but I'm glad to be where I am now."
The former Clemson star led the nation in sacks two years ago, and the Bucs selected him and Adrian Clayborn in the first two rounds of the 2011 NFL draft in hopes of bolstering one of the league's weakest pass rushes.
With Bowers on the physically unable to perform list and Clayborn sidelined for the season with a knee injury, the Bucs have eight sacks through five games.
The 6-foot-4, 288-pound end isn't making any predictions about when he could be ready to play in games, and coach Greg Schiano reiterated that the Bucs will not rush Bowers back into the lineup.
"We've got to make sure we go deliberately with this. Do it, see how he feels and then do it some more," Schiano said. "It was a minimal workload (Wednesday). We're going to ease our way into this."
Bowers had 15½ sacks in his final season at Clemson and was projected to be an early first-round pick before undergoing knee surgery a few months before the draft.
The Bucs jumped at the opportunity to take him in the second round, No. 51 overall, excited about the prospect of pairing him with first-round selection Clayborn, who wound up leading the team with 6½ sacks as a rookie.
Bowers appeared in all 16 games as a rookie, starting the final six at left end and finishing with 1½ sacks.
"I'm just kind of getting back in the swing of things. It's a day-by-day situation," said Bowers, who would not speculate on when he might be ready to play in a game.
Although Schiano didn't rule out Bowers playing Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, the first-year coach suggested a return is not imminent.
"There's a chance, but that's not what we'd want to do," Schiano said.
With Michael Bennett playing well and leading the team with four sacks, there's little chance that Bowers would return in the spot he played as a rookie. Daniel Te'o-Neshiem took over at right end after Clayborn was lost for the season against Dallas, so there's possibility Bowers could push him for that job.
Schiano said it was premature to discuss a potential role.
"Right now I just want to see if he can come back," Schiano said. "After that we'll figure out how to employ him in the scheme."
That's fine with Bowers, who played both left and right end in college, as well as a rookie.
"Whatever coach decides," he said, adding while he's anxious to get back on the field, he's also comfortable with the team's cautious approach to bringing him back.
"Right now, I don't want to put myself out there" without being ready, Bowers said. "With those guys playing as well as they are, I don't want to do that."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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