Da'Quan Bowers is eager to prove the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were right, and 31 other teams were wrong about a knee injury that hurt his stock in the NFL draft.
The former Clemson defensive end led the nation in sacks last season and was considered a probable top 10 pick before undergoing surgery in January.
Some teams shied away from him on draft day, fearing a less than full recovery might shorten his pro career. But the Bucs were encouraged by the medical reports they gathered on the 2010 Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year and felt comfortable with selecting him in the second round to help bolster a sagging pass rush.
Tampa Bay was last in the NFC with 26 sacks a year ago, but feels its addressed the deficiency after using its top two picks in the draft on Bowers and first-round selection Adrian Clayborn.
"He's coming along really well. ... He's a giant, 280-pound end. You could see his power rush was his game (at Clemson), you saw his speed and quickness," coach Raheem Morris said. "The plan we had from the beginning was let's draft him, let's be cautious with him. Maybe we're too cautious with him, but it's smart."
Two weeks into training camp, Bowers is listed on the depth chart as the second-string left end behind third-year Michael Bennett. More importantly, though, is he hasn't had any problems with his right knee and Morris said he will likely play 12 to 15 snaps in his preseason debut Friday night against the Kansas City Chiefs.
"Once I'm finished for the day, I ice it down and go on about my business," Bowers said. "There's no soreness, no swelling, no anything."
It's the second year in a row they've used their first two selections in the draft on defensive lineman, with Bowers and Clayborn joining second-year tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price to form what Morris and general manager Mark Dominik hope will become a dominant front.
When the Bucs selected the 6-foot-4, 277-pound native of Bamberg, S.C., with the 51st pick overall, Dominik conceded that the knee injury might force the team to bring the 21-year-old along slowly. Nevertheless, he and Morris said Bowers' talent and potential made it difficult to resist taking a chance on him at that point in the draft.
Bowers had 19.5 career sacks at Clemson, including 15.5 last year when broke the Tigers' single-season record of 9.5 previously held by the late Gaines Adams, who was drafted by the Bucs in the first round in 2007.
"We were pretty confident ... with the risk and reward from the first day we drafted him," said Morris, who also serves his own defensive coordinator.
Bowers is not discouraged by being listed No. 2 on the depth chart, while Clayborn is the starter at right end. He's trying to learn as much as he can in practice and meetings and is confident he can win the left end job before the Sept. 11 regular season against Detroit.
"It hasn't been easy, but it hasn't been as tough as I thought it would be," Bowers said of the transition to Tampa Bay's defensive system. "We have some great coaches and these other guys on the defensive line have been cooperating, walking me and Adrian through this process."