Da'Quan Bowers was supposed to be a big part of the Buccaneer defense in 2013. Returning from injury and spending a summer working with the team should have been the start of a journey toward fulfilling his promise on draft day just a few years earlier.
But instead, Bowers barely played, stuck in Greg Schiano's doghouse all year, despite performing fairly well when he got the chance.
On Friday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the former Clemson star got his chance to shine, and proved that he has moved on from the nightmare of the Greg Schiano era.
Da'Quan Bowers may have been Tampa Bay's best defensive player Friday night and teammate Gerald McCoy couldn't have been happier about it— Ira Kaufman (@IKaufmanTBO) August 9, 2014
Bowers was incredibly active as an interior defensive lineman on Friday night, getting good penetration against the run and showing great vision to drop back into coverage on a check down from Blake Bortles, nearly intercepting a short pass over the middle.
The following two tweets show an example of Bowers sticking with a play, and using his brain and athleticism to make a tackle for a loss:
This is such a good play from Bowers. Doesn't get penetration immediately, but... pic.twitter.com/c1L2T7dlbK— Leo (@LeoHowell8) August 9, 2014
Moves laterally, finds a good angle, and finishes the play. pic.twitter.com/RSirdIzxhZ— Leo (@LeoHowell8) August 9, 2014
So why is this noteworthy? Because it's a step in the right direction for a player who was admittedly dragged down by his previous boss. In a surprisingly candid interview with the Lakeland Ledger, Bowers said "It was Schiano. He got to me mentally," when talking about his poor 2013 campaign.
Lovie Smith's appointment as head coach has brought a different style of leadership to Tampa Bay, and one that Bowers seems to be responding to in a positive way. He's changed positions for his new coach, and on Friday evening we saw that change prove to be a positive for Bowers, and for the Bucs, who lack depth behind starters Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald, especially at the 3-technique position.
Obviously, Da'Quan has a long way to go before he comes close to living up to his pre-draft potential. But Friday night was a sign that he's in the right place mentally, and still capable physically, of rebounding from a disappointing 2013 season.
And Bowers isn't using Schiano as an excuse, but rather as a motivator. He said of his struggles under his old head coach "I blame myself though. I couldn't push through it mentally. It taught me something and I'm a better person and a better player because of that." That's the right mentality for a player oozing with potential but saddled with the baggage of distractions and disappointments thus far in his NFL career.