What we need is a Steal-O-Meter™.
The Shawon-O-Meter at Chicago Cubs games first penetrated pop culture in the 1980s, and the [blank]-O-Meter is now something of its own meme. Sports Illustrated dusts off the concept from time to time to whimsically measure a Heisman race, a baseball player's attempt to convert from pitcher to hitter or some other will-he-or-won't-he proposition.
The accompanying graphic usually shows a needle working through a 180-degree mark, and if it hits red on the right side, you've got a winner. Rick Ankiel, the pitcher attempting to convert to hitter, eventually redlined his meter.
Where would such a needle be pointing if it was measuring the mistake-or-steal potential of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' selection of Da'Quan Bowers in the second round of this year's NFL Draft? As good news continues to pour in, it would probably be quivering its way down the right side of the Steal-O-Meter's arc.
That needle will surely bounce back and forth a bit as Bowers continues his assimilation into the NFL, the Buccaneers' defense and his own career, post-knee-injury. But it's getting easier and easier to believe that Tampa Bay is going to be rewarded handsomely for that "risk-reward" decision, as Head Coach Raheem Morris calls it, to stop Bowers' fall last April at #51 overall.
Consider this: The Buccaneers have had two full-speed practices plus one walk-through since camp began on Friday, and Bowers has participated in all of them. He has spent a good number of snaps with the first team, at left end opposite fellow rookie Adrian Clayborn on the right end. The Buccaneers will, of course, monitor Bowers' progress and give him as much time off as he needs, but the fact that he is a full participant in the team's work is already well beyond what some teams and analysts projected. That needle is surely sliding to the right!
Bowers came to Tampa without the slightest doubt that he would be on the field, and he passed his pre-camp physical with flying colors.
"I knew there was no chance I wouldn't pass it," he said. "I just wanted to let the team know that I'm full-go and that we can get on the business of doing what we have to do, and that's win a Super Bowl. I'm good and ready to go. No limitations. I'm just trying to get through this heat."
He talks evenly but mirthlessly about his situation of the last eight months, as if he's plotting the comeuppance of all those teams that didn't believe his insistence that he was not a health risk. He says he has a "log," not a chip, on his shoulder, and it's not surprising given the aggravating times he has faced since his health came into question last winter.
After leading the nation with 15.5 sacks for Clemson last season and generally wrecking backfields from his left end spot, Bowers was regarded highly enough to be in the discussion regarding what Carolina should do with the first overall pick. It was a consensus belief that he was a top-10 pick, and even on draft weekend it was often stated that he * would* have been a consensus top-10 choice if not for the injury concerns.
He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery following the 2010 season, and that alone wouldn't have raised many red flags. However, reports followed that he had a more serious condition that might crop up later and limit his NFL career and/or bite deep into his rookie season. Someone coined the phrase "one-contract player," and suddenly that became the fear about drafting Bowers. His agent steadfastly denied these ideas, but at this point the Steal-O-Meter would have been flagging hard to the left.
"It was definitely frustrating, hearing one thing and then finding out it's another thing," said Bowers. "But you just have to keep faith and try to persevere. You can't control what you can't control so I had to fight through it and just get ready for camp."
Bowers had to do that on his own, due to the labor negotiations, but the Bucs heard only positive things. When the new CBA was put in place and players could return to One Buccaneer Place, the team got the same positive reports first-hand. They saw a player not only ready to practice, but one who was driven by the last eight months to prove he was a massive steal in the second round.
"I'm definitely hungry,: he said. "Ten defensive ends were taken before me, 31 teams passed up on me, so I've got 31 points to make and I'm going to do it by working hard."
No one would suggest that the draft was a positive experience for Bowers, but it worked out well, at least in terms of where he landed. He ended up on a team that is both a contender, following a breakout 10-6 season in 2010, and in great need of the exact services he can provide. Pressure off the edge has been the Bucs' biggest deficiency for some time, and it was clearly the top priority in the offseason. Bowers won't be handed a starting spot, and his playing time may initially be impacted by the plan to optimize his return from injury, but there is definitely an opportunity for him to make an impact right away.
Even more encouraging, he has the chance to become a cornerstone player for a team that is building everything around youth. There isn't a grizzled vet anywhere to be found on the Bucs' defensive line, but there is a whole lot of talent.
"It's definitely a unique opportunity," he said. "I'm blessed to be where I am. It's a unique situation, where I am. Not a lot of vets on this team. There are vets, but a lot of them are two and three-year vets. We're a very young team and I have a chance to do something very special and I'm looking forward to it."
As are the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay ranked 30th in the league in sacks per pass play in 2010, 24th in 2009. The team hasn't had a player reach double digits in sacks in a single season since Simeon Rice in 2005. The team leader last year had 4.5.
"That's one of our main priorities," said Bowers. "The more we can get to the quarterback and get him down the more chances we have of winning the ball game. And the more chances we can get the quarterback down the more chances we have of getting the ball back for the offense, and so the thing we're focusing on now is the chance to give [Josh Freeman] the chance to score touchdowns."
Bowers, as you can see, isn't thinking in terms of whether or not he can get on the field in 2011. He's already on the field, and he plans to stay there. He says he has no doubt that he will be playing on opening day of the regular season. His sights are set on team goals…and just maybe a little payback to those who put the log on his shoulder.
If that happens, the Steal-O-Meter will have to be retired. There will no longer be any question.