Thankfully Tom Brady‘s MRI came back negative and the knee is OK, sparing Adrian Clayborn from any unfair hatred from New England Patriots and NFL fans over the training camp accident that led to Brady’s exit from practice this week. He went 8-for-8 on his opening drive against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in preseason action Friday night, so now discussions around Clayborn can revolve around how this first-round talent develops in 2013.
“I bull rushed the tackle and apparently he tripped on Brady and fell on him … You always have to stay away from the quarterback,” Clayborn said, via the team website, “but if you get a guy on his heels, my instinct is to keep going. And that’s what I did.”
The Bucs will hope to see plenty more of Clayborn overwhelming left tackles with the bull rush during the regular season, in a division where there probably isn’t a starting left tackle better than the Patriots’ Nate Solder, who was the one Clayborn knocked into Brady during the teams’ joint practice.
The slate of offensive lineman in the NFC South to be faced by Bucs projected starting defensive ends Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers: Atlanta Falcons LT Sam Baker and (thanks to injury) rookie mid-rounder RT Lamar Holmes, New Orleans Saints LT Charles Brown and RT Zach Strief, and Carolina Panthers LT Jordan Gross and RT Byron Bell.
Roughly half of the players on that list don’t even have a firm grip on the starting job due lack of quality performance at the pro level in recent years, while the other half — Gross, Strief and Baker — you could argue are average to above-average at best.
The ability to mount a pass rush could make or break the Bucs in 2013, and young DEs Clayborn and Bowers must round the learning curve for this to happen. Neither ranked in the top 58 among 4-3 defensive ends in Pro Football Focus’ pass-rush productivity metric last season, but the NFC South is not exactly a fortress on the offensive edge.