Da'Quan Bowers could break out in Lovie Smith's scheme

Grant Halverson

Da'Quan Bowers could take a big step forward this year, if everything goes his way. Will the talented defensive end finally live up to his talent?

Da'Quan Bowers' NFL career has been a disappointment so far, especially for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The one-time prospective first overall pick in the draft has a whopping 5.5 sacks over three seasons, hampered by injuries, a lack of refined technique and a coach who inexplicably kept putting his most talented pass rusher on the bench.

But that's all changing under Lovie Smith. At least the part where the defensive end is likely to play just 19% of the team's defensive snaps, as he did last year.

"It's a good time to be a defensive end in this system," Bowers told the Lakeland Ledger. "There's not as much restriction as we've had in the past but a lot of getting after the quarterback, a lot of things defensive ends like to do."

That should allow Bowers to do what he does best: defeat offensive tackles as a pass rusher. Despite the lack of playing time, Bowers was probably the team's most consistent edge rusher last year. That sounds strange, given the fact that he notched just one sack, but Bowers got very few opportunities. When he did get an opportunity, he beat the offensive tackle with regularity. He just couldn't get on the field often enough for that to translate to the stat sheet.

Greg Schiano's scheme was part of the reason for that. Schiano played an incredibly heavy emphasis on discipline and movement along the defensive line. The team struggled with that all season long, but Bowers' lack of discipline in the run game was a likely reason for his consistently being placed on the bench throughout the season. That shouldn't be the case under Lovie, who values disruptive ability above all else.

"I take responsibility for all of it," Bowers told the Tampa Tribune. "I'm not going to beat up any of the coaching staff or anybody from last year for that. That was all on me. But this is a fresh start for me, and I've been here for most of the offseason already, trying to make sure I come into camp in shape and doing some different things. I mean, I had to change up my routine."

Bowers certainly seems to understand that this is a bit of an important year for his career. "Every year is crucial, but this year has to be a turning point for me. That's why, for me, this coaching change couldn't have come at a better time."

Bowers is a free agent after 2014, so he doesn't have much time left. But along with William Gholston, Adrian Clayborn and even Steven Means, he's just one player in a group of pass rushers with the potential to take a big step forward this year. Bowers certainly has the talent to take the lead, and he's saying the right things.

Of course, we said something similar last year, when the Bucs wanted him to be their starting left defensive end. It's why let Michael Bennett leave in free agency. And Bowers was coming off a year when he flashed the ability to be a terrific pass rusher. Plays like this don't just happen.

Offseason talk is cheap. The key is going to be Bowers' performance once the pads come on. We'll be watching with great interest.

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