Commentary | Jon Dowling may have what Tampa Bay Buccaneers need in secondary

adell@bradenton.comApril 13, 2014 

NFL Combine Football



Jon Dowling might be one of those sleepers every team is trying to find in next month's NFL draft.

It's not a bad label. If you are not a highly touted prospect, "sleeper" sounds intriguing.

Since leaving Western Kentucky after last season, Dowling has moved up the charts and is rated the 12th-best free safety in the draft by one service.

But there is more to the former Southeast High All-American, who set the school record for interceptions and spent his first semester at Florida.

Most of Dowling's perceived weaknesses are fixable because nearly all involve a change in attitude, according to scouts.

Two things that catch your eye about Dowling are his size (6-3, 190) and speed. He is versatile and could play cornerback, which would raise his stock.

It worked for undrafted Sam Shields, the Booker grad who played three years of receiver at Miami and has since turned himself into one of the NFL's better cornerbacks with the Green Bay Packers.

Dowling is a consensus seventh-round pick to undrafted free agent. He has the talent to go earlier, and some coaches might see him as someone worth selecting because of his potential.

Scouts like his length

and fluid motion and even the chip he supposedly carries on his shoulder. In his two years as a starter at WKU, Dowling had an impressive 23 passes defended and nine interceptions and led the country with six forced fumbles last season.

Those are the kind of stats new Tampa Bay Bucs head coach Lovie Smith adores, especially forced fumbles.

He is all about turnovers and says players who play in front of their hometown folks usually exceed expectations.

Scouting reports say Dowling is not aggressive in his tackling and is easily blocked.

They also bring up his time at Florida, where reported problems with coaches led to his departure.

Dowling said he learned from his mistakes at Florida and even called himself immature for his actions. He has never had any legal issues.

Dowling seemed to mature and act responsibly in his first two years at WKU under Willie Taggart and in 2013 under Bobby Petrino.

If he is not physical enough for safety, Dowling has the size and speed NFL coaches love in their cornerbacks. He should thrive under a no-nonsense guy like Lovie Smith.

Ace, Jenkins to meet

The Bucs open the preseason at Jacksonville, which means it's Ace Sanders vs Mike Jenkins Part II.

They went at it last year when Manatee grad Sanders, a rookie with the Jaguars, faced Southeast product Jenkins, who was with the Raiders.

Tracy Sanders, Ace's dad and former Manatee coach and quarterback, said the matchup made him uncomfortable because he knows Jenkins and wanted both to do well.

Against the Raiders, Sanders caught five passes for 64 yards, but only caught two for 11 yards when Jenkins was covering him.

Starters don't play much in the first preseason game, so it will be difficult to gauge this matchup.

It wouldn't hurt Ace if the Jags drafted heralded Sammy Watkins, who would make things a lot easier for the other Jacksonville receivers.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.

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