Is end near for Da'Quan Bowers?

TAMPA, Fla. – Back in June, I started my list of the top 25 players in the NFC South with Tampa Bay defensive end Da’Quan Bowers.

I missed it by at least 100 and notably left Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy out of the top 25. My thinking at the time was simple – Tampa Bay’s front office and coaching staff were expecting a huge year from Bowers. I mean double-digit sacks were the minimum expectation. I didn’t project a bad season for Hardy, but I thought -- based on everything I was hearing -- Bowers’ season would be better.

As it turned out, Bowers had just one sack and seven tackles while playing in a backup role. Bowers wasn’t even able to crack the starting lineup on a regular basis.

His knee (and the Bucs say it’s not the same one that caused pre-draft concerns in 2011) limited him more than we ever knew.

“I was hoping that actually the surgery will help him because I think he’s – and maybe people wouldn’t be aware of it – I know for a fact he was nursing that all year,’’ Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. Thursday “He’s never been well. You’re trying to decide all season on whether or not to make that move. ‘Is he healthy enough to play? Can he at least play on third down? Or are we better off just getting him to have surgery and get him cleaned up and let him rehab for an off season and come back?’ I think you’ll see a different guy next offseason.”

A different guy next season? Maybe so. But let’s not count on it. When Bowers was coming out in the draft, a lot of people thought he would last no more than four seasons due to some knee issues.

Bowers, even if he comes back next season, is headed for his fourth season.