Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bowers, Clayborn learning to switch places for Bucs

TAMPA — Da'Quan Bowers will be counted on as an every-down defensive end for the Bucs this season. That much he knows.

What is less clear is which snaps Bowers will spend at his traditional position of left end and which ones he will switch sides with Adrian Clayborn and rush the passer from the right.

In a scheme much more synonymous with college than pro football, coach Greg Schiano will flip flop his defensive ends based on the offensive formation.

"It's different," Clayborn said. "I thought I wouldn't like it. It's a lot different, switching hands and coming from different angles. But it's good."

What's the only thing that can stop the flop?

On likely passing downs, Clayborn and Bowers will rush from the right and left defensive end spots, respectively.

"This year we're kind of flipping our ends," defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. "Last year we played left or right but now we're trying to specialize body types."

It's not uncommon for NFL defensive ends to occasionally switch sides, to create a different look for the offense or a mismatch with an offensive tackle.

But technique is so critical for success in the pros, most teams prefer to leave their ends on one side, regardless of offensive formation, down or distance.

Which hand a defensive end puts in the dirt matters. The angle of pursuit matters. And perhaps most important to players, which position gets paid the most matters.

Right defensive ends are considered the premier NFL pass rushers. They normally attack quarterbacks from their blind side, provided the passers are righthanded, and they draw the most athletic blocker in the opposing left tackle.

Convincing a player like Clayborn, a first-round pick in 2011 who led the team in sacks with 71/2 as a rookie, might be a hard sell.

"To tell the truth, coming out of college all the critics were saying I can't play left and I kind of bought into it," Clayborn said. "But I'm loving it. I'm loving going back and forth. It kind of gives me energy."

The flip-flopping creates similar matchups on every down by adjusting to where the opposing tight end or split end lines up, reducing the volume of assignments those defensive ends are responsible for on traditional run-pass downs.

The downside is, young players such as Bowers and Clayborn might develop more slowly by not perfecting technique from their natural pass rush position.

"That's the dropoff of flip-flopping them," Sheridan said. "You've got to play left and right.

"But the pictures that you're seeing should be the same. You're lining up on the same offensive surface and what you have next to you, whether it's a three technique (Gerald McCoy) or the nose tackle, that's the same. In our minds, the carryover learning is better. You've got to be left or right, but the scheme stuff should be similar and in our mind, that's better."

Schiano, who spent 11 seasons at Rutgers, has been scrutinized for bringing some ideas from college. Remember the kneeldown game when he ordered his defense to attack as Giants quarterback Eli Manning prepared to take a knee and run the clock out? That was more about etiquette than execution.

NFL defensive ends in 3-4 schemes frequently line up on either side, sometimes in a two-point stance. But to systematically flop pass rushers in a 4-3? That's not as common in the pros.

And for a guy like Bowers, learning how to play on every down might not be his biggest adjustment.

Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected] View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs.

     
     
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