The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished off their latest training camp workout Wednesday in typical fashion, by running a simulated two-minute drill.
The difference, this time, was at right defensive end, where rookie Steven Means played in place of starter Adrian Clayborn. The change was not by design.
Clayborn, the 2011 first-round draft pick who missed all but three games last season after tearing ligaments in his right knee, injured a groin and was not able to finish Wednesday's practice. The severity of the injury was not immediately revealed by the Bucs, who are relying on Clayborn to improve a pass rush that finished tied for 30th in the 32-team league with 27 sacks last year.
“He couldn't practice the rest of the day, and that's usually not a good sign,'' Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “After the individual workouts, he was done and everybody else bumped up a spot. That's why (Means) was out there.''
Clayborn, who has not been as limited in camp workouts as other players coming off season-ending injuries, was not available for comment.
“Adrian is incredibly frustrated, obviously, after being out all that time last year with the surgery, and now, he just gets it rolling again and something else holds him back,'' Schiano said. “But, that's the way life goes.''
Life without Clayborn, who led Tampa Bay with 7.5 sacks as a rookie in 2011, could prove devastating for a team that has not cracked the 30-sack mark in a season since recording 33 in 2007.
The team allowed 2012 sack leader Michael Bennett to leave for Seattle in free agency in the spring, so it is left with mostly young and inexperienced players such as Means in reserve roles along the defensive front. Daniel Te'O-Nesheim, a fourth-year pro who earned high praise from Schiano after producing four sacks as Clayborn's replacement last year, is the exception.
Still, Schiano admitted, there is a dropoff between first- and second-teamers.
“Like I've always said, the No. 1 players are the No. 1 players for a reason,'' Schiano said. “The next guy is usually not as good or he would be the No. 1 guy.''
In at least one case up front, the Bucs still aren't sure if their No. 1 guy is worthy. That's at left end, where third-year pro Da'Quan Bowers has replaced Bennett. The Bucs think Bowers is ready to make an impact as an edge rusher and run stopper, but his play through the first week of training camp has not necessarily been up to their standards.
“He's played at a high level (in the past), but he's done it as a situational pass rusher,'' Schiano said. “Now, he has to learn how to play down after down and still be a situational pass rusher.
“Situational pass rusher is not a bad deal. You go out there, and 95 percent of the time they throw the ball. So, you don't have to worry about stopping the run. You don't have to do the dirty work. When you get to where you're a first- and second-down player as well as a pass rusher, well, then your world really gets harder. So, we'll see.''
Bowers' ability to adjust is critical to the Bucs' game plan, because he could be a candidate to fill in at right end should Clayborn's injury prove to be a long-term issue.
Bowers already has taken a few snaps at right end, but the Bucs want to keep him primarily on the left side. That means either Means, Te'O-Nesheim or Aaron Morgan will work the right side in Clayborn's absence.
“It's the nature of training camp,'' Schiano said of dealing with injuries. “You just have to keep battling, and we will. It would be the same way if it were the regular season.
“You feel bad for the guys and you feel bad for the team, but whoever's ready to go, we coach them up and we get them ready and then it's their responsibility to go out there and play. You're a starter when you're in that first huddle.”