Adrian Clayborn injury weakens Bucs defense

Tampa Bay put Adrian Clayborn, left, on the injured-reserve list with a torn biceps muscle.
Tampa Bay put Adrian Clayborn, left, on the injured-reserve list with a torn biceps muscle.
Published Sept. 13, 2014

TAMPA — Defensive end, a crucial position in Lovie Smith's defense, got a lot weaker for the Bucs on Friday, with starting left end Adrian Clayborn out for the year and starting right end Michael Johnson declared out against the Rams on Sunday.

Clayborn, a former first-round pick who started every game last season, was placed on injured reserve, his season done after one game because of a torn biceps muscle. And Johnson, the team's biggest acquisition in free agency, didn't practice for a third day in a row Friday due to an ankle injury.

"That's a tough blow. Adrian's done everything we've asked him to do the entire time I've been here. A warrior," Smith said. "Any time you lose a player like Michael Johnson, that hurts."

Who steps up? Smith was optimistic that second-year pro Will Gholston can play after missing last weekend with a shoulder injury. Da'Quan Bowers is recovering from an abdominal injury, and behind those two are three players the team signed this week — including two who had been cut in the past two weeks.

The name new to Bucs fans is Jacquies Smith, a promising young player claimed off waivers from the Bills on Tuesday. He'll try to pick up the defense quickly, with help from backups Scott Solomon and Larry English, who led the team with two sacks each in the preseason but were both still cut and then re-signed this week.

"We have some good options. We lost good players, but we feel good about the next group that we'll be playing," said Smith, who typically dresses seven defensive linemen but said the team may use eight Sunday because of the injuries.

Clayborn missed 13 games in 2012 with a torn ACL, and the Bucs had declined a 2015 option before the season, making him an unrestricted free agent next spring. He has totaled 13 sacks in 36 games, and his loss hit his teammates hard.

"It's extremely tough to see him go down," Gholston said. "Having to watch and knowing he has an injury as serious as that, everybody in the (defensive) line room is thinking about him and praying about him."

Gholston emerged in the final month of his rookie season, with 20 tackles in his final five games after totaling just eight in the first 11. The shoulder injury has limited his progress in the past month, but Smith has high expectations.

"Will Gholston is stout against the run, and he's a pretty good pass-rusher, too," Smith said. "It's a shame he got hurt, because he was just really coming on. We're anxious to see him play."

The Rams gave up five sacks last weekend in a 34-6 loss to Minnesota, matching the most allowed by any NFL team, so the Bucs have an opportunity to improve on the single sack they managed in their opening loss to Carolina.

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter

We’ll send you news and analysis on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Florida’s college football teams every day.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

If they do, they'll need a spark from an unlikely player pressed into duty.