TAMPA — Da'Quan Bowers is not a patient man, but he has grown accustomed to the long waits.
His first involved a painful delay during April's draft, when his potential for being a top-10 pick was not realized, resulting in his fall to the Bucs at 51st overall. Bowers, the nation's top sackmaster in 2010 at Clemson, has said he believes the situation worked to his benefit in the long run, allowing him to grow with Tampa Bay's young defensive line.
Bowers' latest test of patience has come while waiting for consistent playing time. Now, that wait, too, finally has ended.
Starting left defensive end Michael Bennett's worsening groin injury likely will cause him to miss one or two games, meaning Bowers is expected to make his first NFL start Sunday at Tennessee.
It has been a long time coming, but Bowers can't say he wasn't prepared for this. It's what the Bucs intended all along.
"I didn't know what to expect," said Bowers, who, at 21, is the team's youngest player.
"I knew that I would be fighting for playing time. When I came in, they told me it was going to be a slow process. They basically told me it was going to be slow enough to (tick) me off, and that's exactly what it did. I wasn't getting a lot of reps. I was getting frustrated. But a few weeks ago, they told me, 'Hey, it's time.' "
Bowers' coaches at that point began to make him a more consistent part of the rotation. After a first half of the season in which he rarely flashed, Bowers has been impacting recent games. His biggest opportunity to date came last week at Lambeau Field, when the rookie took over for Bennett, playing most of the final three quarters.
The timing of Bowers' unleashing was not random. It was only recently that he felt comfortable, both physically and mentally. The physical challenges were associated with the knee injury and surgery that prompted his precipitous fall in the draft.
"From when I came in to now, I think there's been a massive improvement," Bowers said. "Coming off my injury and not being able to run or do anything football related for seven months, it was tough for my first month or two here. But I'm actually back in the heavy rotation now. I'm actually going to be getting a lot more reps. It's been a tough road, but I'm actually able to finally do what I came here to do now because I'm fully healthy."
He takes a measure of satisfaction in this, having not forgotten the many teams that passed on him in the draft, as well as some of the doubts expressed about his NFL future.
"The Bucs took a chance on me, and I'd like to say it was a good opportunity and good chance that they took," said Bowers, who has 15 tackles in 10 appearances. "With the situation I was in, a lot of people didn't think I'd make it to the first game. But here I am 10 games in and there are no problems yet."
Bowers' mental hurdles were the standard ones that come with playing in the league for the first time.
"It was all kind of overwhelming at one point," Bowers admits.
"You get these guys out there, and you forget they're 22 years old and 23 years old," coach Raheem Morris said. "They do something great one play and then they absolutely make a boneheaded play the next. They make mistakes here and there, and you have to remind yourself."
One reason Morris, perhaps, forgets Bowers' youth is because he has made some plays that displayed maturity.
Bowers' thick build (6-4, 277 pounds) and power distinguish him from many of the speed-first edge rushers who have played for the Bucs. While Bowers possesses plenty of speed, he also plays a physical brand of football that his coaches crave.
"We've been using him primarily against the run," Morris said. "But his power shows up big time when it comes to the pass rush. He's got great power when people are running at him. But where he really uses it is when he uses his speed and power on some of these (offensive) tackles in the pass rush. You definitely can see the big difference in power and speed and bulk."
The result of this long-running process of getting Bowers to this point won't be known until the team lines up Sunday.
But this much is clear about Bowers: The time for waiting is officially over.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.