By Tom Krasniqi (Twitter: @TKras)
The challenge was made yesterday by former Bucs great Warren Sapp to Da’Quan Bowers and the front four—If you’re wearing pewter and red, you need to be hunting down the quarterback with regularity.
Sapp pursued quarterbacks back in the day with a vengeance. On August 3rd, Sapp will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after registering 100 sacks during his career, playoffs included. Now, Sapp wants to light a fire under Bowers and the rest of the defensive line.
Sapp’s message was received loud and clear on Friday. Bowers accepts the challenge. “Definitely…. Sapp’s a good friend and a good mentor”, Bowers said on Friday after the Bucs finished up the 2nd day of training camp. “If I can play with the kind of intensity that he played with all those years, hopefully you guys will be asking me questions about the next generation sooner or later”.
I asked Bowers if he had a goal in mind this season for sacks. “No number. As many as I can get”, Bowers replied. “If it’s 10, it’s 10. If it’s 6, then it’s 6. If it’s 20, it’s 20. Whatever helps the team.” 20 sacks? That would be something.
During the offseason workouts, Bowers mentioned that anything less than a double-digit sack total would be a disappointment. The Bucs certainly need Bowers and Adrian Clayborn to step forward in order to prevent opposing offenses from doubling down on Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Clayborn tore his ACL early last season after an impressive rookie year in which he registered 7.5 sacks. Bowers was nagged by an Achilles and hamstring injuries last season and has 4.5 career sacks. Bowers was a 2nd round pick back in 2011 and led the nation in sacks with 15.5 back in 2010.
Last season, the Bucs had just 27 sacks as a team which was 30th in the NFL. That simply won’t cut, especially when you go up against NFC South quarterbacks Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton. In the offseason, their leading sack man Michael Bennett (9 sacks) left for Seattle in free agency. That’s one-third of the team’s sack total who’s no longer with the team so the pressure is on Bowers, who says he doesn’t feel it. “No, it’s not pressure. That’s our job. Our job is to put pressure on the quarterback and then make him make bad decisions,” Bowers said. “We just got to toughen up. We got to do our job and do our assignments and it’ll take care of itself”.
Now in his 3rd season, Bowers is a full-time player. Head coach Greg Schiano wants to see Bowers make that successful transition from situational pass rusher to every-down player and that’s not an easy thing to do. “He’s got to go out and do it to be an every-down player,” says Schiano. “Situational pass rusher is not a bad deal. You go out there-- 95% of the time, they throw the ball so you don’t have to play the run and you don’t have to do the dirty work. When you get [to the point] when you’re a first and second down player as well as being a pass rusher on 3rd down, then your world gets harder”.
Sapp and the Bucs are banking on Bowers and the front four to get that pressure. Bowers believes he’s up to the challenge. If he is, the Bucs may find themselves playing important games in December and perhaps beyond.
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