The Tampa Bay Buccaneers tried to give their ailing pass rush a boost Thursday, activating DE Da'Quan Bowers from the physically unable to perform list just hours before kicking off against the Minnesota Vikings.
The move marked the end of an arduous but remarkable four-month long journey back from a torn right Achilles tendon injury Bowers suffered during an offseason workout at One Buc Place in May.
The return of Bowers, a second-round pick out of Clemson who started the last six games of his rookie season a year ago and finished the year with 30 tackles, 1.5 sacks and five tackles for loss, came not a moment too soon.
The Bucs pass rush has been struggling to get to quarterbacks ever since RDE Adrian Clayborn went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 3, recording just two sacks in the last three games combined.
With Clayborn, their reigning sack leader, out, Bucs LDE Michael Bennett and DT Gerald McCoy have faced increased attention on passing downs, limiting the Bucs to no sacks in either of their last two games.
The addition of Bowers, who worked at right end on third down Thursday, figures to improve the unit's performance. Though he was slowed by offseason knee surgery, Bowers was considered the premier edge rusher coming out of college last year.
To make room for Bowers on the roster the Bucs released CB Lequan Lewis. Lewis was signed last week after the team releaeed DE Markus White, who was re-signed to the practice squad.
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson ran for 153 yards – his best rushing effort of the season – against Arizona last week. He went up against a far more stingy rush defense in taking on the Bucs.
The Bucs went into Thursday's game allowing a league-low average of 3.1-yards per carry, and the Bucs say the play-making skills of rookie WLB Lavonte David is one of the big reasons they're doing that.
"If you were playing pickup tackle in the back yard Lavonte would be one of the first guys you'd take when picking teams because he's going to make a whole bunch of plays,'' Bucs defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said.
David was one of the first players the Bucs took during last year's draft. They traded back into the second round to get him and he has responded with a team-leading 49 tackles, including a team-best nine for losses.
Compared to previous seasons, Bucs FB Erik Lorig has been a very busy man this year. After catching just seven passes each of the last two years combined, Lorig caught his eighth of the year Thursday when he hauled in Josh Freeman's 1-yard touchdown pass with 3:34 left in the first quarter. The TD reception was the first of his career for Lorig, who came to the Bucs as a defensive end and worked at tight end before moving to fullback.
The idea behind the Bucs decision to move RT Demar Dotson into the starting lineup as a replacement for Jeremy Trueblood was to provide better protection for QB Josh Freeman. So far the plan has worked.
Since Dotson replaced Trueblood as the starter for the Bucs' Week 2 game at the New York Giants, the Bucs have allowed just seven sacks. That's the third-lowest total in the league over that period of time.
Former Largo High standout Leonard Johnson made his first start of the season Thursday, playing LCB in the Bucs nickel defense CB Eric Wright worked the slot in that formation as Brandon McDonald took a seat. … Former USF S Mistral Raymond missed his fifth straight game for the Vikings with a high ankle sprain. … The Bucs scratched LB Najee Goode, DB Keith Tandy, RB Michael Smith, OL Cody Wallace, TE Danny Noble and WR Chris Owusu from their lineup for Thursday's game.