Watch: Da'Quan Bowers on camp and the preseason opener
Da'Quan Bowers knows exactly what is expected of him by Greg Schiano and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' coaching staff. He also knows that, one way or another, the coaches will find what they need.
"I'm a firm believer that there are no missed opportunities in this league," said Bowers. "If I don't take advantage of it, then somebody on the street will. I just have to come and bring my game, I have to play hard, I have to be able to go every step of the way, every down, whether it's 10 plays in a row or just two plays in a row. I just have to be ready to go."
It is precisely that gap between 10 plays and two plays that Bowers is trying to bridge in this summer's training camp, and it is that opportunity that he will either seize or leave for someone else. The Buccaneers need an every-down left defensive end and Bowers was drafted with that role in mind in the second round in 2011. His first season was taken deliberately slowly as he recovered from knee surgery the previous winter, and his second campaign was cut in half by an unrelated and fluky Achilles tendon injury in May. The Buccaneers had Michael Bennett manning left end for much of those two seasons, so Bowers' help as a situational pass-rusher was both adequate and encouraging. Now, the situation has changed; Bowers is listed first on the depth chart with the belief that he will be able to make that transition to starting. Now he must prove that he is the right man for the job.
"Coach is a straightforward guy and I respect him," said the former NCAA sack champion from Clemson. "He said he wanted more out of me, so it's my job to come out here and give him more, give him all that I have until I don't have any more.
"I think it's a lot harder than the average person thinks. I think Coach Schiano said it best, that when you're a starting pitcher you have a whole lot more pitches than a closer, so you just have to get ready to go. You have to bring your A-game and be prepared. I've been in situations in the past, just coming in on second-and-long, third-and-long, and that's easy. But being able to play the run on first and second down, third down, and then rushing the passer [is different]."
When a major league pitcher converts from a reliever role to starting, his team takes some time to "stretch him out," gradually giving him longer and longer assignments. That's what the Bucs are doing with Bowers, and it's why he remained in the preseason opener last Thursday against Baltimore well after most of his fellow starters had taken a seat. It wasn't insulting for Bowers to be playing alongside of and against a group of mostly very young players; in fact, he and Schiano had worked out the plan together.
"I felt like I needed it," said Bowers. "I'm an unproven defensive end in this league; I felt like I needed the extra work. I talked to Coach [Schiano] about it. He agreed, I agreed, so we came up with the plan. There's definitely pressure, because if I don't arrive, the next player will. So I have to get it taken care of. Camp is winding down; I just have to get it done and get on the ball."
The Bucs are indeed wrapping up training camp, or at least what's left on their in-town schedule. After a morning practice at One Buccaneer Place on Monday, the team is flying to the Northeast to spend three days practicing against the New England Patriots before Friday's preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Bowers views that week as potentially very useful in his "stretching out" process. After missing out on last year's training camp due to the Achilles injury, he's trying to catch up on the work he needs to hone his game.
"It's some of everything: getting used to going every down, bad habits, getting used to everything in this type of system," said Bowers. "This is my second training camp and my first one under Coach Schiano, so it's been a little tough, but I'm enjoying it. I've had an okay training camp. There are a lot of improvements to be made, a lot of work to do before we go to New England, but, you know, it's got to be done and I'll get it done.
"Practicing against the best and competing against the best is the only way to be the best. So I think it will be a benefit for us [to go to New England]. I'm looking forward to it and looking forward to practicing against some good offensive linemen – [other] good offensive lineman, I should say – and getting better."