Since the hiring of new coach Greg Schiano in January, the ship of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has sailed smoothly. With a splash in free agency and widespread praise of the team's draft efforts, analysts like Mike Mayock have even suggested the Bucs may be one of the NFL's annual quick turn-arounds in 2012.
Sadly, those hopes hit a roadblock this week on the practice fields of One Buc Place.
On Thursday, May 10, word hit Twitter that defensive end Da'Quan Bowers suffered a torn Achilles tendon during a workout as part of the club's off-season conditioning program. Within an hour, the team confirmed the news by posting further details on the Buccaneers' website.
Similar to the recent injury of 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, a torn Achilles requires surgery and a typical healing time of 1 year. The Bucs plan to schedule Bowers' surgery for Friday, May 11, in hopes of expediting Bowers' recovery.
Numerous football players have experienced this painful injury, which frequently occurs during workout activities. While Bowers was injured on the practice field, Suggs was rumored to have been hurt in a pick-up basketball game. Following successful surgery last week, the 29 year-old Suggs vowed to play in 2012 and expressed hope for a 6 month recovery period.
Such a limited window seems overly optimistic. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons estimates that an average of 11 months is required before an NFL player is ready to compete. While wide receiver Demaryius Thomas returned after only 7 months in 2011, former defensive stud Shawne Merriman has yet to heal properly from a 2010 injury.
Entering his second season, Da'Quan Bowers was expected to be a growing contributor to an already suspect Bucs' defensive line. During a 2 year period from 2010-2011, the club unusually expended 4 top draft picks to bolster this area of weakness. While the pair of tackles drafted in 2010, Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, have largely under-achieved, initial signs looked more promising for Bowers and Adrian Clayborn, the duo of ends selected in the first 2 rounds of 2011.
Though recording only 25 tackles and 1.5 sacks in his rookie campaign, the 22 year-old's performance did improve during the later part of the season. In a December loss to the Carolina Panthers, Bowers impressively racked up 8 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and an interception. The player was rewarded with insertion into the starting lineup for the team's final 6 contests and Bowers was certainly expected to start at left defensive end in 2012.
Yet, his current torn Achilles is all-the-more stinging because Bowers is already haunted by a history of injuries.
During a dominating college career at Clemson University, Bowers was once projected as a high 1st round pick. Winning the Bronco Nagurski Award as college football's top defensive player in 2010, the defensive end led he nation with 15.5. sacks. His draft stock plummeted, however, after Bowers suffered a knee injury that same season. Though he endured the pain, knee surgery was required. Playing a grueling position, scouts feared a loss of explosiveness and the Bucs were able to acquire the one-time top prospect with the 51st overall selection.
If the Buccaneers' defensive end is to replicate the glory achieved in college, he must now overcome another setback. While Suggs' prospects appear higher since he is a mobile linebacker, Bowers carries more weight and his position lines up in the trenches. With a bad knee and a surgically-repaired Achilles, fans cannot count on Bowers taking the field for Tampa Bay in 2012.
Michael Bennett will likely occupy left end, where he started 10 games in 2011, before being replaced by Bowers. But there is a definite reason Bennett was supplanted in the starting lineup. Possessing far less up-side, the 4th year player is hardly explosive and likely more of a journeyman.
Expect the Bucs to look into the free agent market for depth at this shaky position. Meanwhile, let's hope Bowers' injury does not produce yet another misfire at defensive line.
Yahoo! Sports, Buccaneers.com, BostonHerald.com, Clemsontigers.com.
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Jeff Briscoe is a writer who covers sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. A loyal Tampa Bay Bucs fan, he co-hosts the Florida-based radio show, The Sports Train.