From the second he started playing football, the odds were against Adrian Clayborn. The defensive end, who is in his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was born with Erb’s Palsy, which caused damage to his nerves from his neck down to his right arm. As Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post wrote, Clayborn started playing football in the seventh grade, initially being placed at tight end and catching passes. However, he eventually made his mark by causing damage to quarterbacks as a defensive end in high school and then at the University of Iowa.
At Iowa, he was a difficult assignment for blockers with his mean streak and explosion off the line of scrimmage. Clayborn dissected blocking schemes in his path to the quarterback, as he racked up 19 sacks and 37 tackles for loss in his four years. He put together some memorable performances for the Hawkeyes, such as the one against Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. That night, Clayborn stacked and shed blockers all game to disrupt Tech’s dangerous Triple Option offense.
After his time in college, Clayborn entered the 2011 NFL Draft and was knocked by several teams because of his aforementioned medical condition. Many believed that the condition would hamper his career moving forward, citing the 17 reps he put up in the 225-pound bench press as one of the indicators. However, as we say here at theScore, the tape never lies, and one thing was certain: Clayborn’s tape was impressive.
Clayborn’s tape showed violent hands, determination and “borderline illegal play,” as Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris put it. A relentless motor accompanied these traits, and this is what sold the Bucs on him, as they selected him 20th overall in April.
The selection has paid off thus far, as Clayborn is the team leader in sacks and is consistently applying pressure on quarterbacks. All three of his sacks have come in the same fashion, which is what makes this evaluation interesting. His explosion off the snap has given pass blockers problems this season, specifically when he threatens them outside.
Clayborn’s suddenness off the snap, which helped him stand out at the Scouting Combine, has allowed him to set up pass blockers with an inside pass rush move once they set up wide. Colts left tackle Jeff Linkenbach learned this the hard way in their Week 4 matchup.
On this late-fourth quarter sack, the former Iowa standout lined up in his usual five technique — outside shoulder of the offensive tackle — at right end. At the snap of the ball, he exploded out and pressed the outside shoulder of Linkenbach. In the image below, Clayborn is seen moving his arms rapidly as he presses outside. Much like a sprinter is taught, the feet move as fast as the arms.
Furthermore, when Clayborn went outside, he forced Linkenbach to kick slide too far out in an effort to cut off the path to quarterback Curtis Painter.
As Clayborn rushed wide of the pocket, Linkenbach extended his arms and bent at his waist, thus lunging (or reaching) out to Clayborn and putting himself at a disadvantage. Once Clayborn saw this, he looked to take advantage of it because he knew that he had the leverage on the pass blocker. With this leverage disadvantage, Linkenbach had another thing coming at him: the counter rip move.
The counter rip, (explained here) is used once a pass blocker ‘over-sets’ — meaning he kick slid too far out — and leaves an inside path to the quarterback for the pass rusher. When this is executed properly, the pass rusher attacks the inside opening that the blocker leaves when he kick slides too far out. The pass rusher, Clayborn in this instance, uses a ‘club’ technique — a powerful strike to the side of the arm of the blocker — to knock Linkenbach off balance and create a free path to the quarterback.
As said, this has been the move that has enabled Clayborn to get to the quarterback this season. In Week 7, Clayborn used this move to get to Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. On this play, he lined up in his usual five technique right defensive end alignment while the Bears came out in a split-back set. In this set, Cutler is accompanied by two backs that are lined up to each side of him, one being a fullback and the other a running back.
At the snap of the ball, the running back to the right released into the open field while the fullback on the left was responsible for helping left tackle J’Marcus Webb deal with Clayborn. The fullback’s responsibility on this play was to ‘chip’ — a hit to the outside shoulder of the pass rusher — Clayborn back inside, where Webb should have been waiting for him. This ‘chip’ was done with the intention of slowing down the outside rush of Clayborn.
However, all the fullback chip did was re-route a relentless Clayborn inside, where Webb was not present. Clayborn’s power overwhelmed Webb, as he got a hold of the pass blocker’s inside breast plate and gained the leverage advantage.
The biggest issue that Webb ran into was that he got knocked off-balance once Clayborn got the leverage advantage and used the club technique on him.
Clayborn has done a great job thus far of using this technique, however it is crucial, in my opinion, that he develops another pass rush move to complement the counter rip. As we’ve seen in the past with successful pass rushers, they must have a variety of pass rush moves in their arsenal to be most effective against blockers.