You certainly can understand why Da'Quan Bowers has kept a low profile. The defensive end out of Clemson was this year's big draft faller, a kid who just a few months ago was considered the possible No. 1 overall pick, only to plummet to the second round, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers chose him 51st.
Bowers has emerged and, in an exclusive interview with NFL.com and NFL Network, said he's better for an experience that showed him how fragile life can be but how quickly things can improve.
While, in his words, the slide was "heartbreaking," he sees landing with Tampa Bay, a team that considered taking him in the first round, as a blessing. Coincidentally, it's also the team that drafted his dear friend and idol from Clemson, the late defensive end Gaines Adams.
Bucs optimistic about Bowers
"It's just overwhelming to be drafted by the same team that drafted him," Bowers said. "It's a sign from God."
Bowers said he's beyond motivated to show that he's healthy and to prove to the teams that passed on him that they made a mistake. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik told me that the snub clearly has made Bowers hungrier, and coupled with his love of the sport, his intangibles could make him an even better player than anyone expects.
Bowers looks much more lean and fit these days than he did three months ago at the NFL Scouting Combine. At 280 pounds, he's at an optimum weight for a left defensive end, the position Dominik said Bowers will play in the Bucs' 4-3 defense. He's able to run, cut, jump and fully train now because the infamous knee that caused him to be pulled off several teams' draft boards is healing. Bowers wouldn't say that he's fully recovered, but that he's "ahead of schedule" and would be ready for training camp.
Based on conversations with one GM before the draft, Bowers' size -- he played around 280 in college -- is a reason why some teams were scared off during the draft process. Although there doesn't appear anything wrong with Bowers' knee to hold him back in the short term, his practice time and other physical drills might have to be strictly managed to minimize wear and tear.
Bowers isn't worried about playing it safe.
"I'm not concerned at all," he said of his knee possibly failing him. "If it's going to happen, it's going to happen."
It might not happen, though. That's the unknown. Tampa Bay is banking on having Bowers around for awhile to help shape a potentially dominant defensive line with first-round pick defensive end Adrian Clayborn, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (last season's No. 3 overall pick) and defensive tackle Brian Price (a second-round choice last season).
NFC South draft grades
Bowers said he's eager to jell with his teammates, which is hindered because of the lockout. The defensive linemen do frequently speak on the phone, Bowers said.
A few other notes disclosed by Bowers:
» He didn't know that his knee injury was problematic until he realized he couldn't participate at the combine. A red flag went off in his mind, as it did with several teams.
» Bowers' agent, Joe Flanagan, told him the day before the draft that based on conversations with several teams, there was the chance he might not be drafted in the first round. Even so, Bowers didn't believe it actually would happen.
» Bowers didn't know the extent of his knee procedure until repeatedly hearing some of the reports about the surgery. He believed he was simply having a minor scope, and even though doctors told him they had to do additional work -- there was a minor micro-fracture procedure -- Bowers didn't know how serious it was.
» McCoy has called several defensive players to have their own workouts, and Bowers would consider it. However, based on his rehab and the fact he's not under contract, it's unlikely he would participate in any physical activity.