A knee injury last September took away 81% of Adrian Clayborn’s second NFL season, but it gave something in return: Time.
Clayborn, who suffered his season-ending ACL tear in the third game of the 2012 season, at Dallas, would have rather used the next three months to chase quarterbacks and build on his very promising 7.5-sack rookie season. When that wasn’t an option, he did the next best thing with his sudden wealth of free time – he built himself into a more formidable player.
Obviously, Clayborn’s main pursuit for the balance of the 2012 season and the months that have followed in 2013 was recovering and returning from his mishap. However, since the injury took away his legs for a period of time, he also focused on adding muscle above the waist. Mission accomplished…actually, both missions accomplished, because Clayborn is already back on the field, and he’s cutting a more imposing figure while he’s at it.
“He was out with an injury that kept him from playing football and he took it as an opportunity to improve his entire body, not just the rehab,” said Head Coach Greg Schiano, comparing Clayborn’s approach to that taken by fellow defensive end Da’Quan Bowers during Bowers’ return from an Achilles tendon injury last year. “So when I look at Adrian, that’s a different looking guy right now than it was six, eight months ago. I think that is really going to pay benefits when he gets back to going. I think you’re going to see a guy who is really able to do well. He always played with great effort, as long as I remember him back at the University of Iowa playing with great effort.”
Indeed, one of the main scouting-report points on Clayborn when the Bucs were targeting him in the first round in 2011 was his high-motor, non-stop approach to the game. That’s actually a bit of a complicating factor for him this spring, because the team is taking a cautious approach to the final stages of his comeback. Clayborn has been cleared for all activities but the Bucs are limiting him to individual drills during the current OTAs.
“Adrian is doing well in his recovery,” said Schiano. “We are going to keep him out of team periods right now, just for safety. Could he do it? Yeah, he could do it but there’s no reason to right now. Maybe as we get into June, we’ll give him some, when I visit with [Head Trainer] Todd [Toriscelli] on some on that. I like where he is and what he’s doing.”
Clayborn is obviously champing at the bit, but he understands the approach and is just enjoying what practice reps he can get.
“It just feels great to be out here, and to be stronger, upper body-wise,” he said. “They’re just holding me back to be smart about it. But everything I’ve been doing, I’ve been great at. So I’m good.”
Clearly, the goal is to have Clayborn enter training camp with no limitations whatsoever, and that means sacrificing a few reps during May and June. The Bucs, who have been working for several seasons to add juice to their pass rush, know that Clayborn will be critical to what they’re trying to accomplish in 2013. He and Bowers, the team’s second-round pick in 2011, are expected to be bookend starters on the line; the rest of the depth at the position is relatively unproven.
So Clayborn will bide his time, waiting for a chance to put his newly-improved physique to the test.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “The plan is to be ready to go full-speed in camp. Being a year in, I know myself, I feel like I know the defense a little bit more, and I know Bowers does. I feel like we’re going to make that next step.”