CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Buccaneers defensive end Adrian Clayborn was sitting in front of his locker one day last week when an Internet blogger asked him if he could answer a question about sacks.
“You’re asking the wrong guy,’’ Clayborn said, with a laugh.
This is hardly a laughing matter.
With only four sacks this season, Clayborn has not provided the Bucs with the pass rush productivity they expected from him.
Even if you throw in the 10 QB hits and 20 QB hurries he has produced, Clayborn still ranks 22nd among 4-3 defensive ends and 33rd among all ends in total quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. That is not to say, though, the Bucs’ 2011 first-round draft pick has not had an impact. Run stopping is part of the job as well, and in that area Clayborn has begun to excel.
Clayborn enters today’s game against the Panthers ranked eighth in the league among 4-3 ends and 17th among all ends with 17 run stops, and those rankings don’t even begin to define his impact against opposing rushers.
Tied with Gerald McCoy for second among Bucs defenders, Clayborn ranks 11th overall in the league among all defenders this year with 11 tackles for loss, which is any tackle made against a runner behind the line of scrimmage.
“Adrian plays with a tremendous motor,’’ Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “He just doesn’t take his foot off the gas. That’s how he’s made a living here, and really, that’s how he did it in college, too. I remember studying Adrian when we studied Iowa’s defense, and you said, ‘Man, that 94 is something.’ He continues to play that way, which is why I worry sometimes that he’s in for too many plays and getting gassed.’’
Schiano need not worry about Clayborn getting gassed. On the game’s last defensive play at Detroit, a fresh-looking Clayborn made possible Johnthan Banks’ game-clinching interception of Matthew Stafford.
Though he failed to beat the one-on-one block of Lions left tackle Rily Reiff, Clayborn managed to pressure Stafford into a backpedal that resulted in a throw wideout Calvin Johnson had to stop to catch. That allowed safety Kelcie McCray to deliver a hit that separated Johnson from the ball, which Banks picked off to preserve the 24-12 victory.
A little help from his friends
Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon has astounded not only teammates and coaches, but also opponents with his ability to avoid costly turnovers. He has thrown just two interceptions in his past seven games, a span of 226 pass attempts, and he says the play of the Bucs’ defense is one reason his decision making has been so sound.
“Our defense has done a great job of scoring touchdowns on their own, taking the ball away and just helping out our offense in general, and when you have a defense that is playing that well, in the back of your mind, you know it’s not worth the risk of maybe turning the ball over,’’ Glennon said.
“You don’t have to try to throw it in there and take a chance all the time, because you know you can punt the ball away, because, who knows, maybe our defense will get it right back for us like they did many times in that game last week (at Detroit).’’
Long time coming
Bucs wide receiver Tiquan Underwood has not had the kind of NFL career kids dream of.
Since coming out of Rutgers five years ago, he has been cut more than half a dozen times and played for three teams, only one of which (Jakcksonville) ever kept him around for a full season. It should come as no surprise then that the three-catch, 108-yard, two-touchdown game that Underwood had a week ago against the Lions was the biggest game yet in what Underwood refers to as a “roller-coaster’’ career.
“My uncle called me right after that game and I told him, ‘Man, I’ve waited five years to have a performance like that,’ ’’ Underwood said. “Really, I haven’t had a game like that since I was in college, and so it gives you a lot of confidence, but also, our quarterback is a young guy who’s still finding his way, and if you can you want to be a guy that he can count on.’’