Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Adam Hayward has played extensively at the middle and strongside linebacker positions during his five-year career in Tampa, and Head Coach Raheem Morris says the multi-talented Portland State product could play on the weak side too, if needed.
By itself, this versatility would be impressive, but it doesn't even take into account the primary role Hayward has filled since joining the Bucs: special teams standout, and the captain of that group since 2010.
Hayward has seen more time on defense in 2011 and was called upon in last week's game against New Orleans to start on the strong side, with Quincy Black moving to the weak side. He also figures to get plenty of action at that spot this week against Houston, as Morris has indicated that he will draw his second straight start. But having spent his entire NFL career preparing for intensive special teams work in conjunction with learning multiple linebacker spots, Hayward feels at ease with his current state.
"Definitely there's some overlap between the linebacker spots, and just being here for five years, I've been able to go from every position and concentrate on it," Hayward said. "So there's some overlap, but once you get accustomed to it, it's not too difficult to learn all that.
"And sometimes fullback, in case of emergency," he added with a laugh.
It's not hard to envision the hardworking, 6-1, 240-pounder being a successful fullback in a pinch, but Hayward has been primarily focused on his special teams and linebacker responsibilities, as always. As a result, he's been given more opportunities to showcase his abilities through the first part of the 2011 season – starting one game and making 18 tackles so far, well on a path to eclipsing his career high of 29 set in 2010.
Hayward says he's enjoying the chance to play more than just on special teams this season – with one caveat, however. He's not satisfied with the team's record at the midway point.
"Personally it is satisfying to get more chances, but overall, not really, because we're 4-4," Hayward said. "At the end of the day, it's about us getting to the playoffs and then our race to the championship. So personally, it's cool just to be out there, but other than that it's not, because I'd rather be 8-0."
Like all of his teammates, Hayward is supremely focused on team results, not personal statistics or accomplishments. However, he says he felt pleased with his performance in a bigger role against the Saints. He just wants to contribute, no matter which phase it's in.
"I think I played well, but we lost, so it doesn't really matter," Hayward said. "Raheem came and talked to me about [playing more], and I was happy that I got to start and got a chance to prove myself. I feel like I've been doing it time-in and time-out when I get on the field and just try to make plays happen, just try to get in the best position to help this team win, because that's what really matters. For the longest time, it was me not out there and just doing things on special teams, and that's where it was at."
And speaking of special teams, it has been the kicking game that has been Hayward's true calling throughout his time in Tampa. In fact, it was one of the chief reasons the Bucs wanted Hayward to re-sign with the team this offseason after he became an unrestricted free agent.
But even if his role increases on defense in the coming weeks, don't expect a related drop in his special teams duties. As a proud special teams captain dedicated to helping his team in any way he can, Hayward simply couldn't let such a thing happen.
"I'll definitely help out with the younger guys, but I'm not going anywhere on special teams," Hayward said with a bit of a grin. "That's why I was here, and [Special Teams Coordinator Dwayne] Stukes brought me back here for that. He's not going to let me leave and I'm not going to go anywhere. There are times when I'm tired and I look at him, and he says, 'I need you.' It's like, alright, well, that's what I came here to do, so I've got to do it.
"You've got to do what you've got to do."