TAMPA, Florida — Da'Quan Bowers is grateful to have another chance to prove himself with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
A major disappointment for four seasons after entering the NFL as one of the nation's top college pass rushers in 2011, the 25-year-old defensive lineman is back with the Bucs after attracting little interest from other clubs in free agency.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound tackle, a second-round draft pick out of Clemson in 2011, eventually landed a one-year deal to try to jumpstart his career. And, he's determined to make the most of the opportunity.
"I feel amazing, man. Really blessed," Bowers said during a break in training camp, where he's trying to earn a job as a backup on a line lacking experienced depth with tackle Akeem Spence out following back surgery.
The fifth-year pro was humbled, but not broken by his failure to land a contract in free agency.
Instead, Bowers returned to school to work toward a degree in sports management. He also stayed in shape and kept in contact with the Bucs, who signed him just before the start of training camp.
"It wasn't disappointing. Sometimes you need to step away and take another look at it. Looking from the outside in made me appreciate things more than I had in the past," Bowers said.
The Bucs once envisioned Bowers becoming the dominant edge pass rusher the team has lacked the past decade, but coach Lovie Smith thinks he has the versatility to move inside and play effectively at tackle.
Bowers split time at end and tackle in 2014, appearing in 11 games and finishing with 21 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks. In 50 career games, including 10 starts, he has seven sacks.
"I'm a swing man. The more I can do, the more my chances are," Bowers said, while also conceding his best chance to earn playing time likely will be as a tackle.
He reported to camp "physically and mentally prepared" to whatever necessary to take advantage of a "clean slate" with Smith, who's beginning his second season in Tampa Bay.
The coach is encouraged by what he's seen in camp, noting Bowers is in good shape and is making progress in practice.
Smith is not surprised.
"Most of us have been fired at least one time and it's a humbling experience. ... To know and to see how blessed you are to have a chance to be an NFL football player, you would get a different player at most positions if a player was cut first and then had to come back. He would appreciate it a lot more and know that you only have so many opportunities," the coach said.
"Da'Quan did some good things for us last year," Smith added. "And I know right now, he came in, in-shape ready to go. ... He can be a good football player."
Bowers said he's better for what he went through for the six months or so he was a man without a team.
"Definitely a humbling experience, gave me a lot of times to truly work on myself, make some positive strides in my life away from football as far as going back to school and trying to get my degree," he said.
"Being away from football, being away from everything made me miss it that much more," Bowers added. "It's an honor and a privilege, and an amazing opportunity with coach Lovie. ... I'm very, very thankful for it."