Da'Quan Bowers appears to be close to returning to action, and recent roster moves suggest the Buccaneers are ready to move on
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had to miss the supremely talented Da'Quan Bowers so far this season because of an Achilles injury, but he could return to the fold this week. When asked about the possibility of Bowers suiting up this Sunday, head coach Greg Schiano responded that he "has looked good" but had not "done a lot". Schiano certainly didn't rule out Bowers getting involved on Sunday, although he certainly didn't confirm it either.
If the Bucs want to play Da'Quan Bowers on Sunday, they will have to add him to the active roster. This is why I think the defensive end will play on Sunday: the Bucs have already made room on the roster by waiving defensive end Markus White, which went through the league office on Thursday. On Friday's list of transactions, no new additions for the Bucs appeared - which means they haven't signed anyone. This also means that if they do sign someone on Saturday, that player will not have practiced with the team once this week. The only player who is not on the active roster but has practiced with the team this week and could play on Sunday, is Da'Quan Bowers himself.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers can wait until Saturday to activate Bowers from the physically unable to perform list if they need him to play. There's a simple reason to wait that long to do so: to confuse the New Orleans Saints just a little, and be a little secretive in general - as they have been every since Schiano entered the building. There's no downside to waiting, either, as Bowers has been allowed to practice fully all week.
Interestingly, the New Orleans Saints could be doing something similar with linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who is returning from a knee injury. On Monday, Vilma said that he could play, while The Sports XChange thinks it's likely Vilma will play on Sunday, ESPN's Ed Werder reports he could play around 20 snaps and USA Today reports he flew in his family. That doesn't Vilma will take a lot of snaps, though, and it certainly doesn't mean that the Saints' defense will be any better. They've been horrible this year, especially against the run, and Vilma in his first game action isn't likely to make a big difference. Not to mention that he has never been good at taking on blocks, and the Bucs should be able to run the ball down the Saints' throats.
Da'Quan Bowers could see a similar workload on Sunday. Recall that last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints early in the season on the back of a very strong defensive performance. Adrian Clayborn harassed Drew Brees all day, taking advantage of left tackle Jermon Bushrod's weak play. Bushrod hasn't gotten any better, but with Clayborn on injured reserve the Bucs are unlikely to be able to take advantage of
That's where Bowers could come in, who could be an ideal third-down pass rusher. Bowers was raw and undisciplined last season, especially in run defense, and he's unlikely to be ready to play a lot of snaps. But he should be good enough to play as a pass rusher in dime packages, which would give the Bucs' pass rush a significant boost. With McCoy hopefully providing push up the middle and Bennett pressuring Brees from the other side, they could make life very hard for the star quarterback on Sunday - and that could be the key to a win.
That said, there are risks to rushing Bowers back. Lisa Melnick, a physician's assistant at New York's Hospital for Special Surgery, told Deadspin's Dan Gartland that give to six months is a perfectly normal rehabilitation time for this kind of injury, but that players do run a higher risk of injury. "We know it takes many months for the tendons to become truly strong."
We have no choice but to trust that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a quality medical staff and know what they're doing. For now, it's not even certain they're activating Bowers, although signs certainly point to that happening. If Bowers returns, the Bucs will likely use him sparingly - but he could play a key role in beating the Saints on Sunday.