TAMPA — The NFL as a whole was on the verge of giving up on Denver Broncos defensive end Jeremy Mincey when Buccaneers defensive line coach Joe Cullen inherited him during a stint in Jacksonville four years ago.
A former University of Florida standout, Mincey was already playing for his third team in four years and was coming off a 2009 season lost to injury, but he quickly flourished under Cullen, who doesn’t take much credit for Mincey’s sudden emergence.
Some players just take longer than others to figure this league out, Cullen said Wednesday at One Buc Place, and like Mincey, Cullen believes Bucs defensive end Da’Quan Bowers may prove to be one of them.
“Some guys blossom early and some blossom late, and I studied Da’Quan really hard when he was coming out of college and so I’m really excited to work with him and see what we can do there,’’ Cullen said.
Once considered the best defensive end in the 2011 draft class, Bowers’ career has been in tailspin since suffering a knee injury near the end of his senior season at Clemson.
After falling to the second round of the 2011 draft, Bowers struggled through an uneventful rookie season before missing the first six games of the 2012 season with a torn Achilles tendon.
Bowers bounced back late in 2012 and flashed some potential during the final 10 games to earn an opportunity to start at left end in 2013, but he blew that opportunity when he showed up for training camp out of shape.
Relegated to a part-time role for the third time in as many years, Bowers recorded just seven tackles and one sack during the 2013 season, but Cullen believes Bowers is capable of much more than that.
“I can’t comment on what he’s done prior to me getting here, but I think he has the qualities to be a dominant defensive lineman,’’ Cullen said. “He’s big, he’s powerful, he’s strong, and those are all great qualities.
“He really does have all the qualities you look for (in a dominant player), but he’s been injured, missed some time, and like I said some guys come in right away and have a major impact. Other guys, it takes time.’’
Bucs fans have heard all those Bowers superlatives before. Former general manager Mark Dominik rattled them off last year after he decided to let 2012 sack leader Michael Bennett leave for Seattle in free agency.
Dominik thought Bowers was ready to replace Bennett as an impact starter at left end, but he was quickly proved wrong, and as a result, Bowers’ time in the NFL — or at least with the Bucs — might be running out.
His failure to seize a starter’s job has left the Bucs without a dominant pass-rushing end, and the team’s need for that element could result in Bowers’ dismissal before the season even starts.
Cullen likely will have to work fast, then, if he hopes to turn Bowers into the dominant player he envisions. There is reason to believe, though, that Cullen might be able to do that.
A disciple of former Bucs defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, Cullen helped the Detroit Lions finish in the top 10 in the league in sacks while working for Marinelli, then the Lions’ head coach, in 2007 and 2008.
He then helped the Jaguars get 13 sacks out of Mincey between 2010 and 2011, and he was a big part of the reason the Cleveland Browns finished the 2013 season with 40 sacks, their third-best total in the past decade.
Bowers presents a new challenge, but Cullen is confident he can get the results the Bucs need.
“Da’Quan did some great things at Clemson and he’s done some really good things here,’’ Cullen said. “He’s a strong, powerful player that at times shows that he can overpower tackles and tight ends, so I really am excited to work with him.’’