TAMPA — Nothing about 2012 played out the way Da'Quan Bowers envisioned. The Achilles rupture he sustained in May, during an offseason workout, changed the entire course.
But since his quick return to the lineup Oct. 25, Bowers has seen continued improvement that has him and coaches excited about his long-term prospects.
Bowers is still coming off the bench, mostly as a pass rusher, but the defensive end is getting more out of the snaps he's playing, making some good quarterback rushes while also playing strong against the run and showing a good overall burst.
"I can definitely tell a difference the longer I play," said Bowers, who has played eight games. "I wasn't really in football shape when I started, and every week I get in better and better shape."
That's not to say Bowers isn't benefitting from some of the conditioning he did while injured.
"When he came back initially we were all apprehensive because of the injury," coach Greg Schiano said. "But the thing that I mentioned when he came back is that he really did more than rehab his Achilles. He changed his body somewhat. He's stronger, he's quicker and I think the sky's the limit for Da'Quan. He got to play and he's got two more games, God willing, and then another whole offseason with the program. I think he's going to be a really talented guy."
Bowers has three sacks and looks to finish strong. Given how his body feels, he has a shot.
"I feel fresh," he said. "I don't have as much wear and tear this year. But I also didn't have that training camp and preseason to really get ready like the other guys did. That's something you need. But I feel good."
REUNION: Bucs DT Gerald McCoy and Rams QB Sam Bradford will forever be linked for a number of reasons. For one, McCoy, the third overall pick in the 2010 draft, was selected two spots after top pick Bradford.
But more than that, the two are friends, having played together at Oklahoma and maintaining their relationship ever since.
They'll meet as pros for the second time Sunday, when the Rams visit Raymond James Stadium. But when the two spoke this week, the conversation wasn't about what would transpire on the field.
"I talked to him (Wednesday)," McCoy said. "We were just checking on each other. I wanted to make sure his mom, dad and grandma didn't need extra tickets. We're friends, so we leave it at friends. No football talk. But we know we both are players and get paid to do a job, so that's what we'll both do on Sunday."
After studying the Bucs this week, Bradford is convinced McCoy is doing his job rather well.
"I think Gerald's playing at a really high level," Bradford said. "Watching the tape, he seems to show up a lot. I've got to be aware of him, and I'd really like to get out of this game without him hitting me."
FAMILIAR FOE: The Bucs weren't the only team Schiano had talks with before his hiring in Tampa Bay.
The Rams also interviewed him before hiring Jeff Fisher, and Schiano did due diligence on St. Louis before speaking with its brass. Those observations have been reinforced this week as Schiano watched the Rams more in-depth.
"I do recall some of those things," Schiano said. "And as I've been watching them, I'm a little more familiar going into the week than I would be with another team."
INJURY REPORT: The main Bucs concerns are DE Aaron Morgan (shoulder), who didn't practice Friday and was listed as doubtful, and CB LeQuan Lewis (knee), who is questionable.
For the Rams, there are concerns about top CB Cortland Finnegan, questionable with a thigh injury.
View Stephen F. Holder's blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs.