Rehab is a lonely place. It certainly was for Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Da'Quan Bowers.
Since that day in mid-May when he tore his right Achilles tendon during an offseason workout at One Buc Place, the 2011 second-round draft pick has spent six days a week alone in the weight room, where he tried to stay strong; alone in the pool, where he tried to rebuild the muscles in his legs, and alone with his thoughts.
"The guys would be out there on the field practicing and working out and I'd peak out the window and see them and get all mad and frustrated and stuff and think to myself, 'I'm so far away,' '' Bowers said Wednesday upon his return to the practice field. "That's why it felt so good to be back out there with my teammates. I've really missed that camaraderie.''
Bowers missed more than that. He missed the feel of a helmet on his head and pads on his shoulders. He missed the feel of football pants on his legs and sweat rolling down his back. He still misses the thrill of hearing his name announced on game day, but that's coming sooner than some may realize.
"There's a great chance I could play this week,'' Bowers said of Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium.
That was desire talking.
Bowers' return to game-day action is not quite that close. It is imminent, though. Bucs coach Greg Schiano made that clear, and those lonely days in the weight room and the pool are the reason Bowers already has reached the point where he could play this week if he absolutely had to.
"What Da'Quan has done in his rehab has been unbelievable,'' Schiano said. "And not only rehabbing his Achilles but what he's done with the rest of his body while he's had the opportunity. I always (tell) our guys, when you have an unfortunate injury like that, there's an opportunity there as well. Yeah, your Achilles is hurt, but your whole upper body is fine and there's still a lot of things you can do cardiovascularly, and he's done that and he looks great.
"We just need to get him feeling comfortable and get him back in football shape. I don't care how many sleds you push or treadmills you're on and all of that stuff, it's different playing the game. But I am hopeful that somewhere in this window, he's going to be able to come back and help us and then for the rest of the year help us.''
The window Schiano spoke of is a 21-day period in which the Bucs must decide whether to add Bowers to the 53-man active roster or end his season. No one sees Bowers' season ending prematurely.
"I don't think there's any major chance of anything going wrong,'' Bowers said. "I visited the doctor (Tuesday) and was cleared to go, so now it's just up to Coach Schiano and myself. And if we (think) at the end of the week that I could possibly help the team, we'll talk about it.
"But, right now, I don't want to put myself out there, not with those guys playing as well as they are. I don't want to be that one downfall that's not ready to go. So, we'll just have to see how it goes the rest of the week. With this kind of injury you never feel anything until the next day, so we'll see how (today) goes.''
When Bowers returns, he expects to work at both right and left defensive end. He split time between the two spots during college, as a Bucs rookie last season and again on Wednesday.
For now, though, Schiano isn't worried about where Bowers will play.
"Right now I just want to see if he can come back,'' Schiano said of the Clemson product who produced 30 tackles, including five for a loss, 1.5 sacks and 8 quarterback pressures last season. "After that, we'll figure out how to employ him into the scheme, if he's able.
"I just think we have to make sure that we go very deliberately with this thing and do it right and then we'll see how it feels and do some more. We're going to ease our way into this thing.''