NFC South: Joe Cullen

If I had to pick a Tampa Bay player that’s in for a breakout season, I’d go with defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

The guy was a first-round talent coming out of college in 2011. He showed some promise as a rookie, but his past two seasons have been interrupted by injuries. With a new coaching staff that’s not going to run nearly as many stunts as a year ago, Clayborn might be able to thrive.

The Bucs brought in Michael Johnson to play right defensive end, but defensive line coach Joe Cullen said Clayborn will get to rush the passer from both sides and he has high expectations for the fourth-year player.

“When I look back at Adrian, I look back at his rookie year when he had his hand in the dirt all the time, just going vertical, getting off the ball, being disruptive, 7 1/2 sacks from the right side,’’ Cullen said. “Then he had the injury and then you look at last year, he had 19 1/2 tackles for loss, 5 1/2 sacks and three of them were on the left side. And it was a little bit different scheme but still he’s rushing from that side, so he’s going to play both sides. Michael’s going to rush from both sides.’’

Johnson got big money in free agency and the Bucs are counting on him to be their top pass-rusher. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Clayborn ends up playing a big role.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The previous Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaching staff basically gave up on defensive end Da'Quan Bowers last season.

But the new coaching staff sees some hope for Bowers. Defensive line coach Joe Cullen said Wednesday that he sees potential in Bowers.

“Some guys blossom early and some blossom late, and I studied Da'Quan really hard when he was coming out of college, and so I’m really excited to work with him and see what we can do there," Cullen said.

Through three seasons, Bowers’ career has been disappointing. A second-round pick in 2011, Bowers has been held back by injuries and inconsistency. The previous regime made a huge mistake by letting Michael Bennett leave as a free agent last year, because the belief was that Bowers was ready to be a full-time player.

That never came close to happening.

“I can’t comment on what he’s done prior to me getting here, but I think he has the qualities to be a dominant defensive lineman," Cullen said. “He’s big, he’s powerful, he’s strong, and those are all great qualities.

“He really does have all the qualities you look for, but he’s been injured, missed some time, and like I said, some guys come in right away and have a major impact. Other guys, it takes time."

Here’s the reality: Maybe there is some hope for Bowers. Maybe this coaching staff can get something out of him. But the Bucs can’t afford to assume that Bowers is going to have a breakout season. If he does, it’s icing on the cake.

But Bowers has disappointed before, and it’s possible he’ll do it again. The Bucs need to look for an alternative in free agency or the draft.