When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed highly-coveted pass-rusher Michael Johnson in free agency in March, they moved Johnson into the starting right defensive end position and moved incumbent Adrian Clayborn out. But the Buccaneers didn't move Clayborn out of the starting lineup; rather, they put him first in line at left defensive end. They hope the results will be improved pressure from both edges of their defensive front, which hasn't produced sacks at the desired frequency for quite a few seasons.
It's not surprising, of course, that the Buccaneers want to keep Clayborn involved, given the promise he has shown with 7.5- and 5.5-sack seasons in 2011 and 2013, respectively. The effort the former Iowa star puts forth in practice and in games has never been questioned, so if there is a way for Clayborn to excel in a new role, he'll figure it out.
"It's a tough transition to make, but he has just a nonstop motor and it seems like wherever we put him, he finds a way to be successful at that position," said Head Coach Lovie Smith, who has also given Clayborn some reps at defensive tackle in pass-rushing situations. "With Michael coming in at that position, this was an option for Adrian and he's accepted that role and again hasn't missed anything since I've been here. The guy just shows up like the [Energizer] Bunny: He just keeps going. We're expecting good play out of him."
Clayborn's all-out approach might result in hustle sacks from time to time, but Smith says it is the young player's talent that will be the root cause if he develops into a more prolific pass-rusher from his new vantage point.
"I like to think that every person that gets sacks, [there] has to be some effort involved in it and he does have that," said Smith. "He has ability too, it's not just [his effort]. I don't think an effort player gets sacks just based on that, and relying on you just working harder every play than your opponent. That is a part of his game though. I think when you have some talent and you have a non-stop motor, then you have something special."
Clayborn's potential wasn't the only topic being discussed at Buccaneer headquarters on Wednesday. Below are some additional thoughts from Coach Smith and several players.
C Evan Dietrich-Smith
On what he brings from Green Bay that could help the offensive line improve:**
"For me, I played with a lot of good players up in Green Bay, I know how they go about their business, I learned how to watch film with them on my own and those kind of things. I've seen how we've been successful up there and from that standpoint I tried to bring that down here to these guys and show them some of those things, but for the most part once we get the five guys solidified I think that will definitely help as far jelling and then being able to move forward in that process."
Head Coach Lovie Smith
"Day two of preparing for the Buffalo Bills, which is good. I think just about every day that I've come in here, I've talked about good practice and we're getting better. I'm definitely going to say that today. Our football team got better today. As good a practice as we've had. Good work. Hot. [We] finished up with our two-minute offense and defense. We do see progress being made, but we still have a long ways to go. This time of the year, you have to eventually – we're at 90 [players] right now, we need to get down eventually to our 53-man squad. So you have to release some good football players. Letting Lavelle Hawkins go, he did a great job for us here. We feel like we have a lot of receivers, especially young receivers, that we like. Again, it's always tough when you tell a player he won't be on our football team anymore. But it's about the rest of the group. We do have a couple of injuries. Can't give you a lot more information on the injuries. Steven Means was able to go through team stuff today. Beyond that, Alterraun Verner continues to get better. Making progress. The rest of our guys, we didn't have anyone off the top of my mind that came back from their injuries."
RELATED: Alterraun Verner Sets Course for Saturday Return
On defensive end Michael Johnson's injury:
"Mike has a knee bruise. It's not anything serious so he should be good to go this weekend at least."On if the evaluation process for the players has been completed:
"The evaluation process for most of the players has been done. This week, the group that plays is telling you an awful lot. Telling our guys, telling our team what we think up until this point. But we haven't had extended play. We'll play into the third quarter with our starters this week. But to answer your question, most of it has been done, but every year, there are some positions in the latter part of our roster that will be decided by some of the play this week and of course next week also."On making the decisions for who makes the roster and who does not:
"My comment was that, in the end, there aren't a whole lot of hard decisions, and I'm going to stay with that. It becomes clearer and clearer as we let players play. You have to earn play time by what you do on the practice field. Then, it's about performing in the game. And they are telling us. So again, right now, for the most part, we know. We want to confirm a couple of things."On how he will handle playing the starters in the third preseason game:
"I'm telling them, 'You have this much time.' The guys that start the game will play into the third quarter. They know that. From there, we'll kind of see how it all works out. They do know that. We're trying to hit on all those different situations. Right now, we've done it for the most part. But now, it's about players learning how to come in at the half, us to make adjustments, and then finish up strong in that third quarter. So this is a big part of the evaluation for us to get ready and I look forward to this team each year."
On what he is looking for from the starters in the third preseason game:
"Improved play. When you come in as a new staff, we can't set a whole lot of lofty goals. Based on what? We're starting from scratch right now. So for us, we set the bar against Jacksonville. We wanted better play last week; we got that. Now we need to take another big, big step as I see it. I mean, we're playing the division champs to open up the football season. We need to play our best ball. We need to be peaking about that time. So we need to see something that we really like this week."
On the advantages of practicing in the heat:
"It has to be an advantage for us. I'm new to the area. You feel the heat. It does make a difference. Green Bay, Chicago, those outdoor teams have an advantage over warm-weather teams that come up. We feel like we have the same. Not feel like – we do. It will affect our game and we need to be ready. That's why – I understand other people and other teams, what time they practice during the day early to avoid the heat – no, we've got to get ready for it. Only way to get ready for it is to practice in it. So we'll continue to do that and it will be an advantage for us."
On how many tight ends the team will carry:
"I liked this question. A little, 'Have I figured it out?' I better know. Have I figured it out? Yes, we have, and I'm assuming you would like for me to tell you that right now too? I would like to. I'm just going to say tight end is a valuable position and you can't have too many tight ends. I can probably say that about O-line, quarterback and every other position too. I'm not trying to go around your question, we have figured out – we have an idea about how many we want to keep and we like all of the tight ends we have right now. Again, I don't think there are hard decisions to make that tell you who stays on the team."
READ: O-Line Consistency (Wednesday Notes)
On defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and starters playing into the third quarter:
"When you say how important he is to the team, that's giving the impression that – we have to get better and a part of our progression to get ready for Carolina is for our starters to play into the third quarter. That's just a base part of it, if injuries happen – we had practice hard at practice today too, that just happens. We'll watch Gerald as much as we can and when the players aren't out there live on the field, we have benches on the sideline for them to rest, but besides that it's just nonstop go."On McCoy taking the step to being a next-level player:"For me, again, it's the first time I've been around him and all I've seen is just a player at another level based on what I've seen. I don't know what he's done in the past, but I just know I heard he's a great player coming in and he was a good leader, now I've seen it firsthand. All of those things are true, great player by his play, he's played dominant ball. No one works harder than him out there and as a coach 'Gerald we need to get this done,' you can't coach him too hard, you can't critique or criticize him too hard. He's going to lead us to a lot of wins. Love – every team would want Gerald leading them."On bringing back a dominant pass-rush:
"In my mind nothing has [changed]. Of course nothing has, I still believe as much now as I did then, that you can't just rely on [blitzing] – and we will blitz. A misnomer a little bit is that we're a Tampa-2 team and that we never blitz – we'll blitz. I like to blitz about a third of the time, but we want to be able to rush and get pressure based on a four-man rush and blitz because we want to, not because we have to because we can't get pressure up front. Our guys know that when in doubt if we don't get the call in, the defensive line assumes that it's green, which means just pass first rush up the football field. Until we can do that, we're not going to win any football games. Players know that and we insist on it."On what position is challenging in determining who to keep:
"Well then I would have to get into details on who we really like and I didn't say much on tight end either, I just kind of answered the question on tight end. When you have 90 guys in camp, there are a lot players that you like. A lot of those guys you only have to end up cutting that you like and I don't think it's any different at any position really. We like someone at all of the positions – there's a reason why we have four quarterbacks here. There's a reason why we have two kickers, two snappers; we like more than one guy."On how concerned he is with Verner and Jenkins not practicing:
"Verner was out there today, so he's back practicing. I was concerned and he's missed a lot of work, but he's picked up and it's not like these ACL injuries that the guys are dealing with. With muscle injuries eventually they get okay. Have they missed some valuable work? Yes, but I've found that you can make it up. They're not rookies and for the most part, man coverage is man coverage, tackling is tackling. Some of the basic things that in the end it comes down to, they'll be able to do.On the chances Jenkins plays:
"No, zero chance."On long it will take Verner to get into game shape:
"I don't know exactly how long, I just know how long we have. We have this week and next and then it's game week. He's on pace, he practiced the entire day today out there so he's back, he's healthy now. We've just started the process really with him, don't expect him though to play like the rest of the guys. This is his first preseason game, that's how we're looking at it with him, play some this week, not as much as the rest of the guys. He got more reps today than he did yesterday. He's right on pace the way we planned it for him to be practicing this week, which he's doing."
DE Adrian Clayborn
On what the defense wants to accomplish this week:**
"Everyone knows the [first team] is going to be playing a little bit more, we just want to put a good showing out there and do it for more than 20 plays."On if the team is ready to face Carolina:
"No, I don't think anybody is ready, any team is ready. We still have a lot more to do to get ready as far as getting together as a unit. We'll be ready though."On the defensive line working as one unit:
"I think it's getting better. It's showing up in the games, but I think we still have a long way to go."On wanting to improve on his numbers:
"I think with this defense, they're just going to allow us to use our natural ability. I'm not really putting too much pressure on myself besides just going out there and playing hard and letting the rest handle itself."On the importance of the defense setting the tone:
"I think it's important. We just want to get back to playing the way they used to play by getting takeaways and controlling the game. I think that's the way it should be played anyway."On getting double-digit sacks:
"That's the goal I think every defensive lineman should have and I think it's reachable this year for everybody."
G Oniel Cousins
On the offensive line taking time to come together:
"We're spending a lot of time together and not just at work, but off the field. I think doing stuff like that really builds our camaraderie up and we're definitely getting better and trusting each other. That's what we used to do in Cleveland, we hung a lot off the field and we had a pretty good offensive line for the most part in Cleveland."On why it takes longer for the offensive line to come together:
"I personally think that we're getting better. I think that we're getting closer, I think we're starting to trust each other. I think the technique is getting better, and that's main goal."On what the next step is for the offensive line:
"The next step is to go out there and beat Buffalo on Saturday and to play great as an offensive line and get after it – that's what we're here for."