In a matter of days, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are likely to have a new starter at defensive end by virtue of their first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. That player could easily be Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn. PewterReport.com has learned that Clayborn has visited with the Bucs at One Buccaneer Place as one of the team's 30 pre-draft player invites. Clayborn believes he could be a good fit for the Buccaneers as they stand to make their first pick with the 20th overall selection.
“It was a great meeting. I met with the defensive line coaches and the head coach, and the GM. I really liked them a lot and feel like it would be a great fit,” said Clayborn. “They did a good job of explaining to me the defense and how I would fit well into it. With Raheem it was a great one. We talked about certain things. It looks like a good fit and I like both the [defensive line] coaches. We’ll see. It was an overall good meeting and great day.”
Sources have told Pewter Report that the Bucs have gone deep into vetting Clayborn and interviewing people associated with Clayborn dating back to his high school days.
Tampa Bay is seeking an edge rusher after finishing last in the NFC in sacks in 2010. The Bucs have not had a double-digit sacker since Simeon Rice was able to accomplish that feat in the 2005 season. Clayborn burst onto the college football landscape with a big season in 2009. As a junior, he notched 11.5 sacks with 20 tackles for a loss, 70 tackles, four forced fumbles, one blocked punt that he returned for a touchdown, and one interception he returned 53 yards for a touchdown.
Last year, Clayborn was the focus of more attention from his Big 10 opponents and his numbers dipped to 52 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one blocked kick. Clayborn still had some strong performances including his October 23 game against Wisconsin. Going against Badgers left tackle Gabe Carimi, a likely first-round pick on Thursday night, Clayborn had five tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble. Playing against the big and powerful offensive tackles of the Big 10 has Clayborn believing he was prepared well for the NFL.
“Definitely, that is what we go against in the Big 10 pretty much every week,” said Clayborn. “Going against [former Iowa offensive tackle Bryan] Bulaga for two years definitely helped me a lot. I think I did well against him. He’d beat me and I’d beat him. It was a good battle.”
Bulaga, a standout left tackle was a first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers last year and was a starter on Green Bay’s Super Bowl run. Facing Bulaga in practice and the offensive linemen at a school that is known for developing quality linemen has Clayborn projected to be first-round pick.
“It prepared me well. The coaches did a good job of that. We work hard on and off the field,” said Clayborn.
After Clayborn’s banner junior season many projected him to be a top 10 pick entering his senior season. The reduced sack numbers have some believing that Clayborn will have to play left defensive end in the pros. At Iowa, Clayborn was exclusively at right defensive end. After being born with Erb’s Palsy Clayborn’s right arm was affected and he cannot extend it fully. While Clayborn plays with strength and power, the Erb’s Palsy translates to reduced weight room strength as he managed 17 reps of 225 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, a low number for a defensive linemen.
Some have wondered if the right arm issues prevent him from being able to play left defensive end. Clayborn has worked out at both end spots for NFL teams and they have told him that his explosion out of his stance has been timed the same from the right or left side. He is confident that he can play both sides of the line of scrimmage.
“That’s pretty much what I’ve heard. I know I can and we’ll see which team trusts my work and believes that I can,” said Clayborn. “I feel I can be a great pass rusher, and I feel I can play left end and take on tight ends and bigger tackles and stuff like that.”
Outside of the extra blocking attention he received, one reason for Clayborn’s lack of sacks in 2010 was he was playing the scheme that he was called on to executing. At Iowa, Clayborn’s role was to bull rush and play contain on most passing downs. The Hawkeyes did not have Clayborn develop and use a variety of pass rushing moves. With teams knowing that Clayborn was going to exclusively bull rush he was easier to prepare for.
“Yeah, that is pretty much our style of defense, bull rushing and playing fundamentally,” said Clayborn. “I’ll probably have to learn a little bit of everything at the next level. It’ll be a new experience, so I’ll have to learn a whole lot of things.”
There were times though that Iowa would have benefited from allowing Clayborn to get more creative in rushing the passer. In Clayborn’s final collegiate game he was held to one tackle and no sacks while Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert attempted 57 passes. He completed 41 of those attempts for 434 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions in Iowa's 27-24 victory in the Insight Bowl. Clayborn's one tackle in the game came in run defense.
“There were a lot three-step drops and getting the ball out pretty quick,” said Clayborn. “It was tough getting in the backfield.”
Another aspect of Clayborn’s game that has an appeal to the Buccaneers is his run defense. At 6-foot-3, 281 pounds, Clayborn is a load at the line of scrimmage. He is very adept at holding up at the point of attack and shedding his blocker to make a tackle near the down marker. Clayborn notched 192 tackles in his collegiate career including 37.5 tackles for a loss. That production, along with his 19 career sacks and seven forced fumbles, has many projecting Clayborn to be an immediate starter in the NFL. Clayborn’s run defense will certainly help him to get on the field early.
“That is something that they teach us at Iowa,” said Clayborn. “Just to be tough and playing on the line of scrimmage. That is something that we take pride in.”
If the Bucs don’t draft Clayborn they could easily be playing against him twice a season. Last week, Clayborn spent the day visiting with the Atlanta Falcons at their team headquarters in Flowery Branch, Ga. Clayborn also has been linked heavily with the New Orleans Saints. Atlanta holds the 27th overall pick and the Saints will be selecting at number 24. The Falcons are looking for a pass rusher and New Orleans has gravitated towards larger defensive ends like Clayborn in the past with players like Charles Grant and Will Smith.
One thing that Clayborn has going for him on Thursday night is how thoroughly he has impressed NFL coaches and general managers with his leadership and character. Clayborn was known as a leader of the Iowa program and adding that type of player to the locker room is appealing to every NFL team. Tampa Bay, in particular, puts an emphasis on team captains and players with an up bringing in military families. After a rash of recent arrests, selecting a player with Clayborn’s reputation is appealing to Bucs general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris, who like to select team captains.
“That is just my personality and my character,” said Clayborn. “I like to stand up and be a leader. I’ve learned from guys previously that were in my position. I learned from them and the way they did it and picked it up when they left.”
Clayborn was a defensive team captain in 2010 and was one of seven seniors named to Iowa's 2010 Leadership Group, one of four juniors named to the team's 2009 Leadership Group and he was one of three sophomores named to the Hawkeyes' 2008 Leadership Group.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Clayborn is the newest Tampa Bay Buccaneer come Thursday night.
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