Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Da'Quan Bowers has vowed to get past his previous troubles and have a big 2013 season.
Da'Quan Bowers claims to have dug the hole all by himself, yet he can't tell you how deep it is. Doesn't matter, really. All that does matter is that Bowers eventually digs himself back out.
That's what the Buccaneers defensive end's offseason has been about. He has dedicated it to digging his way out of the hole that two injuries, some substandard play and one very bad decision left him in.
“Right now I'm just focused on getting into the playbook, getting ready for (offseason workouts) and building a successful offseason so that I can have the best (regular) season that I've had in Tampa,” Bowers said.
The Bucs are in favor of that.
Despite that hole Bowers claims to have dug, the Bucs already have taken a leap of faith with Bowers, naming the third-year pro out of Clemson their starting left end.
Jumps of that nature tend to be rather treacherous anyway, but this one carries a little more risk than usual because the Bucs and Bowers are taking it without an established safety net beneath them.
The Bucs all but tossed that aside in March when they allowed Michael Bennett, last year's starting left end and team sack leader, to leave for Seattle during free agency.
As startling as that decision seemed at the time, it was all in keeping with a plan the Bucs put in place when they selected Bowers in the second round (51st overall) of the 2011 draft. With right end Adrian Clayborn (their first-round pick in the 2011 draft) already in hand, the Bucs immediately began preparing for the day when Bowers and Clayborn would man the edges of their defensive line.
That day has finally arrived.
It has dawned a bit cloudy, though, because Bowers, who was slowed by a knee injury as a rookie and missed the first six games last year with a torn Achilles tendon, isn't alone in that hole of his.
Clayborn, who had 7.5 sacks during a promising rookie season but missed all but the first three games last year after suffering a knee injury, is trying to dig himself out, too.
He hasn't had to dig out as much as Bowers, though, because a weapons charge Bowers earned when he carried a gun into LaGuardia Airport on Feb.?18 nearly buried Bowers for good.
Surprised with a weekend trip to New York by his girlfriend, Bowers hurriedly packed a bag that he claims he didn't realize had a gun in it until after he arrived in New York.
Bowers alerted authorities to the weapon's presence in his bag upon arriving at the airport, but he was arrested and charged anyway because New York firearms laws prohibit anyone from carrying a handgun in public.
“Right decision (to alert authorities) or not, it was a mistake, and there is no right way to make a mistake,” Bowers said of the ordeal, which resulted in the charges against him being dropped in April. “That's not the type of person I am. And I appreciate (general manager) Mark (Dominik) and the Glazer family (that owns the Bucs) and Coach (Greg) Schiano for supporting me through all that.”
It wasn't like they had much choice.
As far back as February, the Bucs had all but committed to their plan of having Bowers replace Bennett as their starting left end, and the gun incident didn't sway them.
“Da'Quan is a guy who continued to accelerate his play throughout the end of (last) season, and the more we can get him on the football field, the better we are as a football team,” Dominik said shortly after Bowers' arrest.
“That's our thought process going forward, and (our) hope is to get Adrian Clayborn back at 100 percent and then pair him with Da'Quan, who we feel can be a premier left end in this league.”
There was a time when every NFL team thought Bowers would be a premier left end. But that was before he suffered the knee injury at the end of his college career that slowed him throughout his rookie year.
That's when Bowers first fell into that hole he claims to have dug. The hole got bigger when he ruptured his Achilles tendon last summer and deeper yet, he said, when he returned to action last season.
“When I came out of college I wasn't ready,” Bowers admitted Tuesday after he and a few teammates took time out to introduce some Pierce Middle School students to the NFL's Play 60 initiative.
“I was coming off an injury and I wasn't ready to fulfill the duty of being a starting defensive end at this level. But it wasn't just the injuries. It was my play. I haven't been the dominant player that I can be. And I've worked hard at it, but I'm still trying to be an elite player in this league and so I still have to dig myself out this ditch that I dug myself into. That's what this offseason is for, and I'm very confident I can do it.
“I've changed my lifestyle up a lot — just eating right and getting my rest and dedicating myself to the season. The season never ends technically, and this year, I've dedicated myself to doing the right thing.”