TAMPA — Da'Quan Bowers will take a major step this week toward overcoming his devastating offseason injury.
The Bucs defensive end, who ruptured his Achilles tendon during conditioning in May, will rejoin the team in practice Wednesday under guidelines governing the physically-unable-to-perform list.
Players on PUP cannot practice during the first six weeks of the season. After that, teams have 21 days to decide whether the player is ready to resume practicing. Bowers already has convinced the Bucs he's there, coach Greg Schiano said.
"He'll do some stuff the rest of this week and we'll just observe and kind of go from there and see how he responds," Schiano said.
This latest development does not guarantee Bowers will play this season. Schiano remains confident, but the Bucs must decide if and when to place him on the active roster. Once he practices, the clock begins on a 21-day window in which the Bucs must place Bowers on the active roster or injured reserve.
"You really just have to play it by ear," Schiano said. "It's how he responds to increased workload as he does a little more. He's done an incredible job in his rehab, but it's like four different phases.
"One is the post-surgical, where you're just kind of waiting. Then it's the training room. Then it's out on the grass where he's working with our trainers and strength coach, running and pushing things. And now here comes the fourth part, and that is actually playing."
Bowers overcame a pre-draft knee surgery in 2011, one that caused a fall from the first round to the late second, and ended last season as one of the team's bright spots. He had overtaken Michael Bennett as the starting left end and was expected to assume the role again before his latest injury.
THE CLOSER: The Bucs always planned to use RBs Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount as a duo, but the specifics of that arrangement can vary from game to game.
Sunday, the Bucs enjoyed the ideal scenario, with Martin enjoying success early, allowing the physical, big-bodied Blount to finish things off. Blount ran five consecutive times on the Bucs' final drive for 53 yards, the final 12 for a touchdown.
"That is a nice model," Schiano said. "You're darn right. After playing for three hours in the 85-degree heat and now you have a 250-pound man coming at you. That would work nice regardless of how he was used earlier. That will kind of change week to week, but that played out well."
SLOTTING: The Bucs have used a number of options as slot receivers since releasing Preston Parker last month, and are enjoying success.
Sunday, Vincent Jackson's second touchdown catch came when he was lined up in the slot. Tiquan Underwood and Mike Williams also rotated into the position.
Underwood's addition has given the Bucs some flexibility in who they line up in the slot, allowing advantageous matchups or different routes in a different area of the field.
"You have Vincent and Mike on the outside, now you have a guy (Underwood) who can play the inside as well as the outside and you have the ability to bring those guys inside, too," receivers coach P.J. Fleck said. "And there's still speed. You don't lose anything on the outside."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.