Photo Credit: Getty Images

By Dory LeBlanc

Bucs Head Coach Greg Schiano has been riding the Da’Quan Bowers bus for a while, saying earlier this summer that the third-year player out of Clemson needed to be an every-down end and that Bowers himself wanted to be just that.

Recently it sounds as if there may be rocky roads ahead. 

“Guys are competing on the defensive front,” Schiano said from Foxborough Wednesday. “You’ve got Gerald McCoy, that’s a guy who’s definitely starting. If AC (Adrian Clayborn) can come back healthy, he’s definitely starting. Everything else is up in the air.” 

Schiano’s faith in Bowers following last season could very well be the reason the Bucs let last year’s sacks leader, Michael Bennett, leave in free agency. That faith seems to be wavering, however, after the third-year end wasn’t getting the expected production out of him in camp. 

His first test was against the Ravens, when Bowers saw the field for the entire first-half, the only member of the Bucs to see that much time, and led to mixed reviews from his head coach. 

From the Bucs-Patriots joint practice session Wednesday, Schiano sounded as if the learning curve is growing shorter as the regular season draws nearer, and Bowers may end up on the sidelines on third downs, or possibly all together come the season opener against the Jets. 

“Everything is being evaluated,” Schiano said. “We have meetings; I told you what I wanted and expected, but I’m not going to make it happen if it isn’t there, it’s got to be there. So we’ll see he’s got an opportunity Friday night and another game next week so we’ll just keep playing it out and see how it goes.” 

It doesn’t sound as if Bowers job is on the line right now, but what are the Bucs’ options if he doesn’t get on track and fulfill the expectations of an edge rusher in passing downs? 

Aside from Bowers and Clayborn, TampaBay has Lazarius Levingston, Aaron Morgan, Ernest Owusu (no relation to WR Chris), Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Markus White and rookies William Gholston and Steven Means among the defensive ends currently listed on its roster. 

Out of these seven players, Te’o-Nesheim has the most experience, playing in all 16 games, registering 40 total tackles and four sacks. 

The Washington Huskie is the favorite to play on third downs if Bowers can’t shore up his pass rushing in the next few weeks, but keep your eye on Morgan, who may be nipping at Te’o-Nesheim’s heels for playing time. Both players are pass-rushing specialists, and would lead the charge to take the third-down snaps from Bowers. 

Morgan, an undrafted player out of Louisiana-Monroe in 2010, was signed by the Bucs last season after being cut by Jacksonville in October. Placed on IR the day before the Rams game last season, Morgan went home to his native Louisiana in the offseason and worked extremely hard; adding some weight and focusing on his technique in order to not only make the Bucs’ 53-man roster, but to play a part in the defense this season. 

During the Bucs’ night practice at Raymond James Stadium, Morgan was one if the standouts of the night, due largely in part to his quick first step. 

“Basically I just came back to OTAs (organized team activities) and tried to focus on everything my coaches told me I need to work on,” Morgan said. “That’s just coaches – credit to those guys here – they just worked really well with me and I’m very appreciative for it. 

“I’m able to play a lot quicker because I know schematically what I’m doing. I know the right reads, the right steps and it helps me play a lot faster. My confidence is high – very.” 

Last week, Morgan was unable to play against Baltimore due to a neck injury, but made the trip to Foxborough, and sources tell me he is expected to play. 

During OTAs, Schiano spoke positively of Morgan, noting his string of injuries – not talent – are the reasons the 6-4, 250-pounder hasn’t seen more looks. 

"Aaron is really an effective pass rusher," coach Greg Schiano said. "He hasn't had a ton of opportunities in games because we got him and kind of worked him into things. Each time he got closer to playing, something happened, it was unfortunate. He got injured.” 

Te'o-Nesheim should get an extended look at Gillette Stadium tonight, and may instill some confidence into Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan's back up plan.  

If Morgan can take the field, this will be a prime opportunity to show the Bucs' coaching staff how he has grown as a player and what he can do in passing situations – especially if he can get to the Patriot quarterbacks tonight. 

Morgan and Te'o-Nesheim may want to get their bus passes ready; they may need them soon.