The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive line added four sacks and another superb run-stuffing performance to its strong early-season showing on Sunday in Dallas. Unfortunately, that group also lost something very significant before the game was over at Cowboys Stadium.
Head Coach Greg Schiano confirmed on Monday afternoon that starting right end Adrian Clayborn will miss the remainder of the season due to a knee injury suffered in the third quarter in Dallas. Clayborn led the Buccaneers with 7.5 sacks last year as a rookie after being drafted out of Iowa in the first round.
Clayborn will have surgery in a couple of weeks and will be placed on injured reserve on Monday. That will open a spot on the 53-man roster, but the Bucs did not immediately have a companion move to fill that vacancy.
This is the second time in just under a month that Tampa Bay has seen one of its core linemen go down with a season-ending knee injury. On August 25, the Bucs placed Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph on injured reserve, absorbing a serious blow to an offensive line that was expected to be one of the team's greatest strengths.
Similarly, the loss of Clayborn robs from a unit that had been performing quite well during the season's first month. The Buccaneers rank second in the NFL in run defense, allowing just 47.3 yards per game, and have already rung up seven sacks through three games. After recording 23 sacks in all of 2011, the Bucs are on pace to finish with 37 in 2012.
Clayborn had yet to tally his first sack of the new season, but his relentless style of play was a key part of the team's combined pass rush. Clayborn's presence at right end has helped Michael Bennett and Gerald McCoy get free for three sacks apiece.
Anticipating Monday's unfortunate news, Buccaneers defensive linemen discussed Clayborn's loss and how they would account for his absence earlier in the day.
The immediate answers on the depth chart include third-year man Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and second-year player George Johnson. The Bucs are likely to take a look at the free agency wire, as well, and could get help from one more internal source.
Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, the Buccaneers' second-round pick in 2011, indicated on Monday that he hopes to return to the practice field after his six-week stint on the reserve/physically unable to perform (PUP) list is over. Bowers suffered a torn Achilles tendon during a May workout at One Buccaneer Place but has insisted ever since that he expects to play in 2012. Once Bowers returns to practice, the Buccaneers will have three weeks to determine whether they want to activate him to the 53-man roster or place him on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Bowers will not count against the active roster during those three weeks. The team may also elect to activate Bowers before those three weeks of roster exemption are through.
Schiano said that some of the Bucs' compensation for the loss of Clayborn could also come from schematic changes.
"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. You adapt, and that's what we'll do."
Clayborn has started all 19 games since joining the Buccaneers as the 20th overall selection in the 2011 draft. Last year he finished with 54 tackles, 7.5 sacks, four tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. He also turned in 26 quarterback pressures, by far the highest total on the Bucs' defense.