Clayborn happily elbowing his way back into action with Falcons

Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn looks on prior to Super Bowl 51 against the Patriots at NRG Stadium on February 5 in Houston, Texas.
Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn looks on prior to Super Bowl 51 against the Patriots at NRG Stadium on February 5 in Houston, Texas.

Adrian Clayborn didn’t play much in the Falcons’ first exhibition game, but the seventh-year defensive end looks forward to playing more Sunday in Pittsburgh, and he’s quite pleased to be playing at all.

Defensive line coach Bryant Young feels very much the same.

Missing the Super Bowl and the NFC Championship game last season was absolutely unpleasant for Clayborn, and it was made worse by pain. Life was kind of miserable for a while after he tore his left biceps muscle in the divisional-round playoff game against the Seahawks.

While he saw very limited action last week against the Dolphins, it felt great.

“I played two plays, so my first goal is to play more than that,” Clayborn said. “It’s fully 100 percent healed. I don’t feel any twinges or pain so that’s a positive. I would say it’s back to 100 strength-wise.”

The Falcons are busy at defensive end, where Brooks Reed and Courtney Upshaw are listed as starters, with Clayborn and Derrick Shelby as veterans in a group of backups that includes first-round draft choice Takk McKinley, fellow rookie J’Terius Jones, and Chris Odom and Martin Ifedi.

Linebacker Vic Beasley works at end sometimes, too, so there’s no guarantee there will be a lot of reps for Clayborn. He made use of last season, racking up 22 combined tackles and assists, 4.5 sacks, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery for a touchdown in 13 games (seven starts).

It’s more clear that when he plays, the former University of Iowa standout is most likely to work from the right side.

“We’ll keep him where he’s best suited to play, and he’s played primarily on the right side,” Young said. “I know he’s more comfortable and effective that way.”

Clayborn, 29, is becoming comfortable with the label of sage veteran as he and Reed, 30, are both entering their seventh NFL seasons.

“He’s just been doing a fantastic job. His mentality, his approach, his demeanor has been awesome,” Young explained. “He’s been great to have in our room and back on the field. I’m just glad he’s back healthy and ready to contribute to this defense. Guys really respect him.”

This is not to suggest that No. 99 is a big talker. There are times and places to counsel younger players.

“I’m the oldest guy in the room besides Brooks,” Clayborn said. “But the good thing about our room is we all talk. We all speak up when we have something to say. It’s not just me. It’s everybody.”

When he went down against the Seahawks, there was plenty to be said and most of it wasn’t warm and fuzzy.

Unfortunately, Clayborn carried experience into the situation as he tore his right biceps muscle in the first game of the 2014 season while playing for Tampa Bay and missed the rest of the season.

“I had the injury before. I knew right away,” he said of wrenching his left arm. “It was the same thing, opposite side. I just got my elbow hyper-extended and it popped off the bone. It rolled up and I felt it and I looked down, so I knew it. It’s a lot of pain. It does not feel good.”

Limited at the beginning of training camp so that coaches and team officials could gauge his strength and health for a while, Clayborn is full-go now and he can expect more action against the Steelers than in Miami.

“The more game reps you get the better game shape you get in; no matter how much work, and running and conditioning you do ... to be on the field getting football reps is a different type of conditioning,” Young said. “I would have loved to have gotten him more reps so we’ll look for him to have more in this game.”

Sign Adrian up for that. He’s ready to roll.

“I want to play free, get after the ball and have fun with my teammates,” Clayborn reported. “I’m just trying to get a feel for the game.”