Only Bowers can stop Bowers

CLEMSON — There has only been one other time as a college football coach that Kevin Steele can recall a player of Da'Quan Bowers' size and athletic ability.

"Reggie White," Clemson's new defensive coordinator said recently. "I was at Tennessee when Reggie White came out. From that aspect, and I know those are strong words, but that is the truth."

There is no reason to describe what Reggie White meant to the University of Tennessee and later to the NFL, but there is plenty to say about why Bowers, a rising sophomore from Bamberg, has drawn such a comparison to an NFL Hall of Famer.

"He's a physical specimen. There is no doubt about that," Steele said. "He is a very blessed young man."

But Steele points out that it isn't just Bowers' physical skills that give him the opportunity to be so good. Steele says the 6-foot-4, 275-pound defensive end is also extremely intelligent, especially for a player who just turned 19-years old.

"He is a bright guy. He doesn't have any problem learning," Steele said. "Everyone needs reps in some things from a technical aspect of it. He is a very intelligent guy."

So intelligent in fact, Bowers is already recognizing when certain plays should be run, though he has only been learning Steel's defense since January.

"You know someone knows what is going on and is locked in when he is standing over there on the sideline during a scrimmage and is saying, ‘Coach we need to run this and we need to run that.'" Steel said. "Now, he is saying it in a positive way. He wants to run it because it frees him up in the rush and things like that so he knows it and he knows the application of it as well.

"That's great. They are learning not just what to do, but they are learning why to do it and when it is used. He knows what he was calling for was in that down and distance. He wasn't calling for something that you would not call in that situation."

Despite the kind words from his defensive coordinator, Bowers still isn't satisfied.

He feels he still has a long way to go before he totally gets Steele's defense down, plus he knows he has some work to do from a technique and fundamental standpoint.

"There is always improvement to be made," he said. "I think I made a good transition to the new defense. I have learned the new plays and the new techniques and I'm getting better at it.

"I still have to get better, though. This is something new to me and I still have a long ways to go."

What's motivating the freshman all-American is what Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said prior to the Gator Bowl.

"Anytime a coach talks bad about the defense, we take it hard," Bowers said. "He specifically said on the defensive line that there was no better athlete on there than Rick Sapp. He called his name out.


"He basically was saying that without Ricky Sapp they could control the front. I felt that was a slap to me because I was playing right alongside Ricky all season. I felt like I had to come out and prove a point to Bo Pelini and the Nebraska offensive line." (Roy Philpott/CUTigers.com)

"He basically was saying that without Ricky Sapp they could control the front. I felt that was a slap to me because I was playing right alongside Ricky all season. I felt like I had to come out and prove a point to Bo Pelini and the Nebraska offensive line."

And he did.

Bowers recorded six tackles, including three tackles for a loss and was in the Nebraska backfield all afternoon. It was a good enough performance that sportswriters covering the game named him Clemson's MVP. Though he would have traded all of that for a Clemson win, he said he left Jacksonville, Fla., knowing he made his point to Nebraska.

"I know after that game, if anything, he knows now that Clemson has another athlete, they have No. 93," he said.

Bowers said his Gator Bowl performance was an eye opener for him and what he can achieve. He of course has always had people tell him how good he was or how good he could be, but he thought they were just saying those things to make him feel good or encourage him.

Though he knows he was given a special gift, he has never thought of himself as one of those elite level players. But after having his way with Nebraska tackles Mike Smith, Jaivorio Burkes and Lydon Murtha, Bowers realizes he has a chance to do something special.

"I was sitting in the locker room after the game and I was thinking ‘Wow, I just had the biggest game of my career against the biggest linemen that I have ever played against,'" he said. "That's when it set in that I could be pretty good at this.

"That right there told me to go ahead and get my mind right and come into this spring ready to work and get after it next year. That was the light I need to see right there."

Bowers had a great spring and concluded it with two sacks and countless more pressures in the Orange and White game. He also had three sacks, a caused fumble four tackles for a loss and six overall tackles in another scrimmage.

"We need more out of him this year and he knows that," defensive line coach Chris Rumph said. "He did pretty good, but he is still not where he needs to be. It is a good thing we don't play tomorrow or next week, but he will be there by August.

"I was pleased with his progress, but he has a lot more he can give this team. I think he can be a big-time dominate player if he continues to work and get better."

Rumph and Steele both said Bowers needs to improve on his overall technique, especially his hands and his pad level.

"Sometimes, he just relies on his athletic ability too much, which is good sometimes, but sometimes it can get you in bad situations so that's when you need your technique and fundamentals," Rumph said.

Bowers said this spring was a little easier than the previous year, despite the fact he was having to learn a new defense.

"I have a year under my belt now," he said. "I know what to expect in the first game. I know what it's going to be like in the first road game. I kind of understand how it is to play college football now.

"Last year at this time, I did not know anything. There's a big difference between the speed, the size and the strength than what it was like in high school. I think now, I'm more comfortable.

"When I came in here, I had trouble with the conditioning and all that stuff, but as I got used to it my game started to pick up. The more I could run and plays snaps, the more I could run and chase the quarterback and I think that has helped my game tremendously."

And now that he's got it, he should improve on what were still some pretty good numbers for a true freshman. He played in all 13 games a year ago, including six starts and recorded 47 tackles and eight tackles for a loss. He also had a sack and 15 quarterback pressures.

"I like that he is starting to work a little better. He has bought in. I love his spirit and I love his attitude," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "He is a kid that is coachable. That's the thing I like about him the most is that he is coachable.

"He wants to be great and he is a competitive young man. We have challenged him to be a little more consistent with his work ethic and practice habits and he has done a good job with that. The sky is the limit for Da'Quan. He is his own limitation."

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