It’s “Unsung Hero Week” here in the Captain’s Blog, and already we’ve shined a little light on an under-the-radar lead-blocker, an unselfish lineman holding a battered group together and a specialist who is one of the best field-position weapons in the NFL. Now we turn our attention to a player who may not be able to stay “unsung for long.
Adam Hayward has given the Buccaneers five-and-a-half years of yeoman’s work, and has become so valued that he is a 2012 team captain. Because of what he brings to the team, however, Hayward doesn’t have the national profile of some of his teammates. He is an extremely valuable special teams asset, both for what he contributes himself and how he helps the largely young cast around him each year, and he solves about a million depth issues on the defense all by himself.
Last Sunday, Hayward patched one of those depth issues when starting strongside (SAM) linebacker Quincy Black left the game with a scary neck injury. Before he even stepped in on defense (and subsequently help the Bucs turn a 24-21 lead into a 34-24 victory), however, he had already made a huge impact on the game. In the second quarter, he was part of a mad rush at punter Mike Scifres, and when LB Dekoda Watson blocked Scifres attempt, it was Hayward who scooped up the ball and returned it 29 yards for a momentum-swinging score. Hayward also tackle return man Curtis Brinkley after the kickoff that followed the game’s final score.
Hayward is so valuable on special teams that he’s likely to keep much the same role going forward, even if he is now the Bucs’ newest starter. With Black moving to injured reserve on Tuesday, the team will ask Hayward to step in at the SAM position. All they really had to do was point Hayward to wherever the newest void was.
“I’ve been here six years, just kind of doing whatever my job is and trying to do the best I can,” he said. “Being unselfish is the only thing that’s kept me around. I play all three spots. When something happens to Dekoda I go in, when something happens to Mason I go in, when something happens to LoLo [Lavonte David] I go in…and now something with Quincy and I’ve got to go in. I definitely have to do my job and play that background spot.
“I think when I go in, I perform well. It’s just when opportunity comes knocking. Whenever I do get that, I feel like I play good enough to be a linebacker on any team, this team or whatever it is. The way the situation is right now, that’s my role, to know everything in case something happens, to go in for anybody at the drop of a dime. One minute I’m playing SAM, the next minute I have to switch my mentality to MIKE and the next to WILL, and then do whatever I can on special teams and help a lot of these guys out.”
Hayward has started six games in his career, most recently a pair of contests at SAM when Black had a shorter-term injury last season. Despite the relatively meager defensive playing time, he contributed 31 tackles on the season, while also making 10 stops on special teams. Hayward had a career-high three starts in 2010, when he racked up 20 tackles a sack and three passes defensed. He got a new set of coaches in 2012, but it didn’t take long for Greg Schiano and his staff to see how versatile and useful the reserve linebacker was. Even now, when it seems like a one-for-one substitution, Hayward for Black, it really has the potential to be more than that.
“He’s a professional,” said Schiano. “He works very hard, he stays up to speed on all three linebacker positions – that’s why I say we will have some flexibility where guys will move around, so it won’t just be exclusively Adam for Quincy. There will be some other things and that will play out.”
So Hayward steps to the forefront when his team needs him once again. It’s a great opportunity for him, but it’s still the result of his unselfish approach.
“That’s kind of my role right now – now I’ve got to step in and be that starter,” he said. “The best part is showing people that this defense is not going to skip a heartbeat. The only thing we can do is go up and play better.”