The Buccaneers could finish the 2012 regular season with their first 10-sack player since Simeon Rice in 2005. Starting left end Michael Bennett got his seventh QB takedown of the season in Sunday’s road win over the Panthers, and thus has six remaining games to get three more and break into double digits for the first time in his career.
Tampa Bay actually had two sacks in Sunday’s game (not to mention quite a few other plays on which it put Carolina QB Cam Newton under duress). The other one belonged to second-year defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. Bowers is not a good bet to get to 10 sacks this season – barring an unreasonably hot streak over the next six weeks – but there’s a very good reason for that. He only started playing at midseason.
Bowers, of course, is the inspirational young pass-rusher who defied expectations to return from a torn Achilles tendon roughly six months after incurring the injury in a spring workout. In retrospect, his rapid comeback, built on a daily dedication to his rehab and an unshakable confidence, shouldn’t have been a surprise. This is the same player whose draft stock dropped from the potential top pick overall to midway through the second round in 2011 due to a knee injury that some considered career-threatening. Not only did Bowers suit up for the season opener last year, he played in every game and was actually much stronger at the end of the campaign.
Now Bowers is supplying fresh legs to the Bucs’ pass rush, and his return has proved more important than it was originally considered. That’s because the team lost its other highly-drafted 2011 pass-rusher, first-rounder Adrian Clayborn, to a season-ending injury in Week Four. Daniel Te’o-Nesheim has filled in admirably as the starting right end, but Bowers has added considerable punch to the Bucs’ DE rotation.
When Bowers first returned from the PUP list in Week Eight to face the Minnesota Vikings, he was purposely limited to just a dozen snaps, and while he did end up on QB Christian Ponder’s back several times he was not credited with any tackles or sacks. The plan was to ramp up Bowers’ playing time gradually from week to week, and that is exactly what the team has done.
“Definitely – my workload has definitely increased throughout these couple weeks,” he said. “I think I’m back at 100% right now. I haven’t had any issues with my legs or anything. I’m getting kind of settled into things, getting into the swing of everything, getting into the grind.”
Bowers has provided instant production. In his last three games he has contributed four tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and three quarterback pressures. He may not get to double digits this year, but that is the type of pace that, over a full season, would definitely have him threatening the mark.
In Sunday’s game, Bowers got his sack, impressively, on a play in which the team rushed just three linemen and dropped eight men into deep coverage on a third-and-16 deep in Carolina territory. He pushed left tackle Jordan Gross back on the snap with a bull rush, then bounced off him and sprung instantly at Newton before the elusive QB could react. The play was a reminder of why Bowers’ stock was so high early in 2011, and a hint of what may be to come down the stretch.