Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Da'Quan Bowers Might Be the Key to a 2011 NFC South Title

Paul Mueller@@ThePaulMuellerSenior Analyst IMay 24, 2011

Bowers could be the missing piece on the Buccaneers defensive line.
Bowers could be the missing piece on the Buccaneers defensive line.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The knee is fine. It’s way ahead of schedule.

Those were Tampa Bay Buccaneers second-round pick Da’Quan Bowers’ words in a recent interview with NFL.com’s Steve Wyche.

Well, that’s a relief, isn’t it?

A relief because Bowers could prove to be a second-round steal. Because the Buccaneers are in desperate need of someone with the quarterback on their radar. Because Tampa Bay hasn’t had a double-digit sack artist since Simeon Rice.

And because a healthy Bowers in 2011 could spell an NFC South title for the Buccaneers.

Sure, the offensive line needs to be more consistent. Josh Freeman must continue his maturation process (he’s already way ahead of schedule). Issues in the secondary and at linebacker must be addressed.

But Bowers could be the key. He could be the difference between winning the division and finishing in third place despite double-digit wins...again.

The NFC South is a quarterback-driven division. It has the savvy veteran with a Super Bowl ring in Drew Brees. It has the clean-cut kid with the cool nickname in Matt Ryan (Matty Ice).

It has the up-and-comer emerging as one of the league’s true young guns in Josh Freeman. It has the top overall pick—the fleet-footed kid with all the controversy and expectations in Cam Newton.

Yeah, the NFC South has it all when it comes to quarterbacks. And stopping them is the key to the division title.

In the Atlanta Falcons’ four losses last season (including their playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers), Ryan was sacked 11 times. He was sacked 28 times overall, meaning that nearly 40 percent of his sacks came in four losses out of 17 games played.

In the New Orleans Saints’ six losses (including their playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks), Brees was sacked 13 times, He was sacked 26 times overall, meaning that 50 percent of his sacks came in six losses out of 17 games played.

Get to the quarterback, win games. It’s as simple as that. Hardly a revelation, but a truth nonetheless, particularly in the NFC South.

Sure, Bowers isn’t the only factor. There’s defensive tackle Gerald McCoy coming back for his second season after an injury-shortened rookie campaign in which he showed comfort and promise toward the end of the year.

There’s fellow sophomore defensive tackle Brian Price, also coming back from injury. There’s 2011 first-round pick Adrian Clayborn, whom the Buccaneers drafted to perhaps be the next Simeon Rice in Tampa Bay.

Bowers was expected to tumble in the draft because of his knee injury, but nobody thought he would fall all the way to the Buccaneers at No. 51.

A prospect once heralded as perhaps the top talent in the draft falling that far is unprecedented, and the Buccaneers capitalized.

Or so we think.

If the knee is fine. If it’s way ahead of schedule.

Bowers said he should be ready for training camp. If he is, score one for the Buccaneers. If he’s ready for Week 1 and can play opposite Clayborn and alongside McCoy and Price, score two for the Buccaneers.

If he can be anything close to what we thought he could be before the knee injury, score it another draft coup for Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik.

And with what could turn out to be one of the most dynamic young defensive lines in the game, pending Bowers’ healthy participation, you could likely notch an NFC South title in 2011 for the Buccaneers as well.

If the knee is fine.