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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers not rushing DE Clayborn's return from injury

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Published:   |   Updated: May 23, 2013 at 07:21 AM
TAMPA -

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still about three months away from their next meaningful football game, so they don't see any reason to push defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

They are limiting his work in offseason practices to individual fundamental drills, eliminating him from the more intense team segments.

And that's just fine with Clayborn.

Eight months removed from a season-ending right knee injury, Clayborn believes he's capable of doing much more at this juncture, but the projected starter at right end is happy just to back on the field.

Or maybe fortunate is the better way to describe it.

A first-round pick out of Iowa in 2011, Clayborn's knee injury left him more grateful for the game and what it offers.

“I think the main difference between this year and last year for me is that I'm a little more appreciative of the game of football now and what I have,'' Clayborn said after Monday's first offseason practice session.

“I don't want to ever take that for granted, because I realize now that all it takes is one play and you could be out. One play and it could all be over for you, so, you know, knock on wood.''

You can bet the Bucs are knocking. Once Clayborn, who led the Bucs in sacks with 7.5 as a rookie in 2011 was injured last season, it was pretty much all over for their pass rush.

With Clayborn gone and offenses sliding their protection schemes toward tackle Gerald McCoy and left end Michael Bennett, the Bucs generated just 27 sacks, tied for third fewest in the league.

And without much of a pass rush to worry about, opposing quarterbacks patiently picked apart Tampa Bay's defense, strafing it for 4,758 yards, the second most allowed in NFL history. The Bucs came within 38 yards of matching the 2011 Green Bay Packers, who gave up an NFL record 4,796.

A key to correcting the problem, the Bucs believe, is Clayborn, who is not unaccustomed to overcoming physical ailments. Since his birth, when he suffered nerve damage in his right arm as a result of his head and neck being turned awkwardly during delivery, Clayborn has battled Erb's Palsy.

Not that you'd know from watching him.

Clayborn makes up for whatever right arm movement he might have lost by bursting off the line and powering his way through blocks. And that's what the Bucs were missing last year.

The need for power and burst is why the Bucs are bringing Clayborn along slowly this offseason. They believe they will get back that and much more when Clayborn reaches full speed again. He is expected to line up opposite 2011 second-round draft choice Da'Quan Bowers, who is healthy after missing the first six games of 2012 with a torn Achilles tendon.

“Like Da'Quan did last year, Adrian has taken this opportunity to improve his entire body, not just the part he's been rehabbing,'' Bucs coach Greg Schiano said.

“So, when I look at Adrian now, I say, 'That's a different looking guy than he was six or eight months ago.' And I think that's really going to provide some benefits when he gets back.''

The Bucs could benefit from an increase in Clayborn's upper body strength, which came as a result of his spending so much of his down time building up his arms and shoulders.

“I feel like this is the strongest I've ever been upper-body wise,'' Clayborn said. “And as far as the knee goes, everything is going good there right now. I'm actually a little bit ahead of schedule.

“I still have a long ways to go, but I'm definitely getting there and that's why they're holding me back. They're just trying to be smart with me, and that's fine. At this point, I'm, just happy to be back out here again.''


rcummings@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7979

Twitter: @RCummingsTBO

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