Bucs scramble with Clayborn out for season
Tuesday is a day off for Tampa Bay Buccaneers players, but rest assured head coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik will be working overtime to address the team’s latest injury issue.
On an afternoon the Buc defense delivered its best performance of the season Sunday, the unit would ultimately endure its biggest big blow of the year: the loss of defensive end and 2011 first-round pick Adrian Clayborn for the season with a right knee injury.
Head coach Greg Schiano confirmed the news on Monday, a day after his defense kept the clamps on Dallas quarterback Tony Romo in a 16-10 loss to the Cowboys.
“Adrian is going to have surgery. He’s done for the season,” Schiano said. “It’s probably going to be a couple of weeks before it happens. It’s certainly unfortunate for him and for the team. … I don’t know exactly what it is. It’s one of those three-letter deals.”
Clayborn was hurt during the fourth quarter, but the extent of his injury wasn’t known until Monday in Tampa: at least one torn ligament, which means the possibility of both his ACL and MCL. It’s hard to minimize the severity of the development for a defensive line that has now lost both its top two picks from last year to injury.
Second-round pick Da’quan Bowers suffered a torn Achilles tendon in May during an offseason workout, though he has been making excellent progress and could possibly return to action in a month.
In the meantime, the Bucs find themselves with a major hole to fill on what had been a much-improved defensive line this season. Clayborn led the team in sacks as a rookie with 7.5 and anchored the pass rush from the right side, teaming with left end Michael Bennett and tackles Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller.
Other than a defense-wide meltdown in the fourth quarter of a 41-34 loss to the Giants, the line has performed above expectations. It helped contain dangerously mobile Carolina quarterback Cam Newton in the season opener and hold the Panthers to 10 total rushing yards in a 16-10 victory. And the line was a big reason Romo struggled to get anything going Sunday, getting sacked four times and fumbling away the ball twice.
Schiano put on his best game face in talking about the loss of Clayborn, but clearly this one threw the 1-2 Bucs for an unexpected loss of their own heading into another challenging contest Sunday with the Washington Redskins and multi-threat rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III coming to town.
“I look around the league and a lot of people have issues,” he said. “The team we’re playing this week has similar issues (with defensive end Adam Carriker and linebacker Brian Orakpo out of for the season with injuries). Look, it’s part of life in the NFL. It’s a bad part and unfortunately it’s people’s lives you’re talking about, the people who get injured. But it’s something you know going in and you have plans in place. And that’s what we have to do.”
It’s especially frustrating for the Bucs since McCoy, their No. 1 pick in 2010, missed much of last year and a substantial part of his rookie season due to torn biceps, and ex-Buc tackle Brian Price, a second-rounder in 2010, was plagued by injuries his first two seasons. Schiano isn’t certain yet what he and his staff will do to fill the void. But many options are on the table.
“We’ll look at everything,” he said. “We’ll look internally. We’ll look if there’s anything outside that’s better. We’ll look at it schematically. Maybe we’ll have to play some more three-down fronts and do some different things to stretch the personnel a little bit. Nothing’s out of the realm. That’s what you do. You adapt. And that’s what we’ll do.”
The three-down formations could use linebacker Dekoda Watson or backup defensive ends George Johnson and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. Asked if left end Bennett might switch to the right side, Schiano responded, “Anything’s fair game right now. I don’t know where we’re going to end up. We’re spending a lot of time talking about it. We’ll make what we think is the best decision.”
While Schiano sorts through the possibilities, he’s also got his hands full trying to figure out ways to get his offense moving forward. In two of the three games to date, the unit has had trouble mounting any kind of consistent attack, with the exception being Week Two against the Giants.
The offense had a dismal day in the Big D, netting only 166 total yards against a smothering Cowboys defense. Rookie tailback Doug Martin had trouble finding running room, managing only 53 yards on 19 carries. But more concerning was the lackluster play of fourth-year quarterback Josh Freeman (10-for-28 for 110 yards, a one-yard touchdown pass and an interception).
The Bucs stayed heavily with their ground game in the second half, even while trailing. That raised the question: Is Schiano completely comfortable with Freeman in high-stakes passing situations, or does he prefer to play it safe with the run? The coach, in his rookie NFL season, expressed confidence in his quarterback.
“I have a great trust level with him,” he said. “There’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s going to do great this year and beyond. … Do I think Josh is capable of doing more stuff down the field? I do. They did a good job of taking some of the down-the-field stuff away, stuff that we hit against the Giants. We didn’t do it quite as well this week. We threw some but we didn’t win the battle.”
Schiano insisted multiple factors contributed to the ineffective offense.
“When you have as tough a day as we did on offense, there’s not one reason,” he said. “There’s not one person. There’s not one call. There’s just a bunch of things. But having said all that, when you go back and watch the tape, it’s like what normally is the case: You’re never as good as you think you were and you’re never as bad as you think you were.
“We’re a couple of small things away from popping some of those runs. The corner falls down one time on a double move but we don’t have time to get it to (the receiver) because we made a mistake. Really, we just never got in synch. And after two solid offensive outings, why does that happen in the third one? That’s obviously what we’re trying to peel away and figure out so it doesn’t happen again.”
What does Schiano think about his young squad after three weeks?
“It’s a team that plays very hard,” he said. “We practice hard and we play hard. We have to practice more focused and we’re going to play more focused. And we’re not going to lose that effort or how hard we play, regardless of the situation. They’re going to play until they tell us to get out of there. If you have that, you have something very special. Now we need to clean it up. We need to make the mistakes go away and we need to play with the same kind of effort. And we’ll be fine.”
It’s just going to be harder in light of the latest casualty.