would have been a high first-round pick in 2011 if not for concerns about his knee. (Getty Images)
We're still four months out from the 2012 NFL season, but the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers may need as much time as they can get to deal with devastating injury blows suffered Thursday.
The Bucs announced on Twitter that second-year defensive end Da'Quan Bowers had suffered a torn Achilles during an offseason workout -- almost certainly a season-ending injury, depending on the severity of the tear. The Browns, meanwhile, may be without defensive tackle Phil Taylor for several months, pending the result of an MRI to determine if Taylor tore a pectoral muscle while lifting weights with the team.
For both defenses, the injuries could be insurmountable ones.
Bowers slipped into the second round of the 2011 draft, mainly because of concerns over his surgically-repaired right knee, but he made it through the entire 2011 season and started six games. He racked up 19 QB pressures and a pair of sacks playing defensive end in Tampa Bay's 4-3 scheme and was slated to pair with Adrian Clayborn as a starter at DE this year.
Bowers' injury forces Michael Bennett back into the starting lineup. The 26-year-old Bennett has been with the Buccaneers since 2009 and started 10 games last season, but ceded his first-team job to Bowers. The loss thins out what little depth Tampa Bay had at defensive end. The Bucs do have money to try to attack the remaining free-agent market -- Andre Carter, Matt Roth and James Hall are still available, to name a few options.
Beyond the impact on the 2012 Tampa Bay season, this stands a potentially massive blow to the development of Bowers as a reliable starter. With a healthy Bowers and Clayborn on the outside, the Buccaneers had the makings of an imposing pair of edge-rushers for years to come. This sets Bowers back at least a year, and there's no guarantee that he'll get back to his previous form once he heals.
Cleveland may be in even worse shape after losing its own second-year lineman. Taylor, the Browns' 21st overall pick in 2011, stepped right into the starting lineup last season and played all 16 games. He chalked up 41 tackles and four sacks, and was a key to Cleveland's transition to a 4-3 from a 3-4 defense, as his 6-foot-3, 335-pound frame helped plug the middle.
Taylor will head for an MRI Friday. If it's determined that he did indeed suffer a torn pec, he would likely be sidelined for anywhere from four to six months -- the former prognosis could bring him back near the start of the regular season; the latter could cost him half the season.
The unfortunate injury could open the door for Browns rookie DT John Hughes to quickly land some playing time. Hughes looked like a reach when Cleveland took him at No. 87 overall, but that was before the potential loss of Taylor. The Browns also took Boise State DT Billy Winn in Round 6.
Cleveland's defense already had its work cut out for it in trying to improve on a miserable 2011 season. The Browns finished 30th in the league against the run, allowing 147.4 yards per game. Needless to say, losing Taylor, a promising young player up front, would not help things.
If Taylor is out for several months and the Browns don't feel comfortable with their in-house options, free agency could be an option for them too. A name to remember: Albert Haynesworth, who might come with a much cheaper price tag than the $7.2 million he played for last season.