"He's not there yet."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line coach Joe Cullen recently described Da'Quan Bowers' conditioning as such heading into another round of offseason workouts. Yet those four words also provide the unfortunate synopsis for Bowers' professional career.
From the beginning, Bowers' slide in the 2011 NFL Draft was seen by most analysts as an anomaly, a surprising tumble down draft boards that resulted in the gaining a "steal." After winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year as a dynamic pass rusher at Clemson, Bowers was projected as a potential top pick coming into the draft. Medical opinions about his knee downgraded him in the eyes of most teams, to the point where he fell all the way to No. 51 overall in the second round.
His stock has been sliding ever since.
"He’s got to get into great shape to be able to do those things (he’s capable of)," said Cullen. "I see a lot of signs that he can be what everybody thought he was going to when he was coming out of college. But again, a lot of that will depend on how he gets into shape and what happens in the preseason.’’
Bowers presents an interesting challenge for new head coach Lovie Smith and the Bucs' staff. After all, it's hard to beat the production Bowers enjoyed in college. Given a chance and a thumbs-up medically speaking, Bowers could provide an additional pass rusher in a league hungry for guys capable of getting to the quarterback.
That said, Bowers is his own worst enemy, showing up year after year in poor condition. Last year, Warren Sapp called out Bowers and told him to "wake up." After being handed a starting role from Greg Schiano, he ended up losing it after a disappointing preseason. Instead of quarterback pressures, he's known more for subpar production, consistent injuries and even an arrest on a gun charge last offseason.
After three seasons in the NFL, Bowers has made only eight starts for the Bucs. In that time, he has 34 total tackles, 5.5 sacks and zero interceptions or forced fumbles. In short, Bowers has provided little of what was expected of him given his collegiate résumé.
The good news is that Bowers now has a blank slate with the new coaching staff. And even after three seasons of experience, it's easy to forget that Bowers was very young entering the NFL and will be 24 years old this season. It wasn't so long ago that Mel Kiper wrote, "Bowers could be an all-timer as a steal if he's healthy. That's the skill-set of a top-five pick all the way down at No. 51."
Once again, Bowers has yet to put all of the pieces together, and it's likely that yet another coaching staff is going to struggle with how to properly motivate and utilize his natural skill set. If this group can, Bowers will finally turn into the steal he was supposed to be. Until then, he's just stealing energy and resources from a team that's been investing since the beginning.