FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — A lot of the concern the Buccaneers might have been harboring about RDE Adrian Clayborn's ability to bounce back from his 2012 season-ending knee injury might have been erased on Wednesday afternoon.
During an 11-on-11 drill midway through the second of their three workouts against the Patriots outside of Gillette Stadium, Clayborn beat New England T Nate Solder badly enough to knock QB Tom Brady out of practice.
Brady reportedly suffered a sprained left knee when the impact of Clayborn's bull rush caused Solder to fall backwards and into Brady as the two-time league MVP was delivering a pass from in front of his own end zone.
Brady, who missed most of the 2008 regular season after suffering a left ACL tear, grabbed his left knee as he went to the ground, got up, limped off the field and later left practice for the remainder of the workout.
“I bull-rushed (Solder) and he fell down, that's about it,'' Clayborn said of the play. “You always have to stay away from the quarterback, but if you have a guy on his heels my instinct is to keep going. And that's what I did.''
Patriots president Jonathan Kraft told 98.5 FM in Boston on Wednesday evening that he did not believe the injury was serious, which suggests Brady might have caught a break on a day when he was not wearing a protective brace on the knee.
“Coach (Bill) Belichick and I, we stress to our (pass rushers) 'Let (the quarterbacks) throw the football. Rush the passer, yes, but go by him, go around him,''' Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “Let's just hope he's OK.''
Schiano said he did not see the play unfold so he was uncertain whether Clayborn was too aggressive on the play. Solder suggested the blame for anything that might have happened to Brady might lie strictly with him.
“We're always working to protect and everything so I'll have to see what happened on the film,'' he said. “But I screwed some things up here and there. We'll have to work to improve it.''
Despite being slowed for a few days by a sore groin, Clayborn has shown steady improvement throughout the preseason and will take the next step in his recovery on Friday when he plays his first game since going down Sept. 23.
“I think he's looked pretty good,'' Schiano said of the Bucs' 2011 first-round draft pick. “He's still not 100 percent yet but he's getting off the ball, and that's his game. He has to get off and play hard and that's what he's been doing.''
An ability to consistently get off the ball and play hard are also two of the prerequisites LDE Da'Quan Bowers will have to display if he wants to start opposite Clayborn, but the Bucs still aren't seeing them.
Now nearly a month into training camp, Bowers continues to play at a level that has the Bucs wondering if he can be an every-down player, and Schiano appears to be running out of patience with the 2011 second-round draft pick.
“I told (Bowers) what I wanted and expected, but I'm not going to make it happen if it isn't there,'' Schiano said. “It's got to be there. He's got an opportunity Friday night and another game next week so we'll just keep playing and see how it goes.''
Bowers is trying to make the transition from being a situational pass rusher to an every-down player. He has admitted that, in addition to “not being in the best shape,'' the transition is proving more difficult than he thought.
The Bucs, who have Bowers listed first on their depth chart at left end, have not demoted him, but Bowers has been yielding some early-down snaps to rivals such as Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and William Gholston this week.
“We're constantly moving guys in and out,'' Schiano said of the lineup shuffling. “We're going to give guys more plays in practice as we think it's warranted. So there have been moves both ways. We're trying to figure out what's the best mix right now.''
Room for improvement
Bucs QB Josh Freeman had a better day than Brady but only by a smidge. One day after looking very sharp against the Patriots, Freeman was intercepted several times in team drills and struggled repeatedly to move the offense.
“We were able to make some plays and get some things going (on Tuesday), but we came back (Wednesday) and they're playing different, using different leverages, taking away different things and playing tighter on the man,'' Freeman said.
Schiano wasn't ready to blame the poor offensive performance on his starting quarterback, in part because none of the Bucs' offensive units moved the ball with precision against New England on Wednesday.
“No, the results weren't good (Wednesday), but let's look at it and see where the breakdowns were first,'' he said.