TAMPA — There are times that Greg Schiano looks at him, and what he sees is potential.
In such moments, Da'Quan Bowers is a beast, flashing the ability to become one of those fierce defensive ends who can impact a game. This is the Bowers that Schiano wants to see, a quick, agile player who can make the afternoons long for an opposing quarterback.
Then there are the times that Schiano looks at him, and what he sees is the lack of production.
In those snapshots, Bowers can be invisible, and the notion of him becoming an every-down player seems as if it is too much to ask. This is the Bowers who makes coaches shake their heads because what they are getting on the field is nowhere near the player he should be.
These days, that is where you find Bowers, perhaps the most baffling Buc of them all.
Right now, Bowers is halfway between what he is and what he could be, in that middle ground between promise and delivery. He is a million dollars' worth of ability stuffed into $1.84 in production.
All of which wouldn't be quite such a big problem if only the Bucs did not need him so badly.
If you wish to know why Schiano has been so direct in his criticism of Bowers, this is it.
He sees more there. So far, Schiano has questioned Bowers' conditioning and his consistency and his ability to be more than a third-down pass rusher.
"It's just an honest assessment," Schiano said. "He and I have an honest relationship, and I've talked to him a great deal. He knows how much I believe in him and how much our coaching staff believes in him. This wouldn't be the first guy we've taken from potential to performance. That's what our goal is."
Yeah? But does Bowers think Bowers has played well.
Uh, not so much.
"Nah, the film don't lie," Bowers said. "I'm playing like (expletive). I haven't played very well. But that's what (training camp) is for. It's the dry runs. I guarantee you by Week 1, when it counts, I'll be humming.
"But I haven't had a sack in the preseason. That's unacceptable."
On other teams, with other pass-rushers, Bowers' disappointment might not matter so much. After all, he has only 41/2 sacks in his two seasons. He is hardly a proven commodity.
But on this team, who else is going to provide the pass rush? Remember, the Bucs had only 27 sacks last year, and nine of those were by the departed Michael Bennett. In fact, last year was the fifth year in a row for the Bucs at fewer than 30 sacks, a small number when you consider this franchise went 10 straight with more than 35, including a staggering 55 in the 2000 season.
This offseason, the franchise let Bennett leave as a free agent, and it shrugged at trying to squeeze a bit more out of free agents such as Dwight Freeney and John Abraham. The franchise was clearly invested in Bowers and Adrian Clayborn.
Even now, Schiano talks about what a "fantastic" player Bowers could be. But there often seems to be a hint of dissatisfaction attached to his praise.
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"I'm not frustrated," Schiano said this week. "There are certain days I'm disappointed that we didn't do more, that we didn't get it better. But he's making progress, and as long as he makes progress, he's going to be a great player. I mean, this guy wants it badly, and he's willing to do what we ask. So it's just a matter of time."
As for Bowers, he says his skin is tough enough to take the criticism.
"He's my coach," Bowers said. "His job is to help me reach my potential. That's the definition of a coach. What he's doing is taking me from where I used to be to where I want to be; where he wants me to be and where this team needs me to be. His job is to pull it out of me, whether it's ripping my (butt) every day or whatever he needs to do it."
To Bowers, that means becoming one of the best defensive ends in the league, one capable of collecting double-digit sacks.
So what's missing?
"I wouldn't say anything is missing," Bowers said. "What I would say is that it's taking time to be as sharp as it needs to be. It's like silverware. You see the silverware, but it's not polished. It doesn't shine. Right now, you're polishing your skill, your technique."
So Da'Quan Bowers is a dirty fork?
"Exactly," Bowers said. "That's a good way to put it.
"I'm a dirty fork, but once Coach Schiano polishes me and shines me up and it really matters, I'll be ready."
We will see. More important, so will opposing quarterbacks.
After all, they're the guys the Bucs have to put a fork in.