Buccaneers wide receiver Michael Clayton has clearly been absent from the passing game this season.
After breaking a franchise record by catching a team-high 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, Clayton has hauled in just 17 passes for 196 yards and has yet to score a touchdown in 2005.
Although Tampa Bay is off to a 4-1 start, Clayton isn't satisfied with the opportunities he's received or the production he's had through five regular season games.
"I'm satisfied with winning, but from my personal play, no, you can't be satisfied with what I've done this year," Clayton said. "As a competitor you're never satisfied. I've never been in a situation like this, so I'm just trying to handle it the best way I can. As an offense, it's not always easy to get me the ball. I'm just trying to do everything I can to help my teammates by blocking and things like that. I'm doing everything I can to help us win."
Clayton has caught just two passes over the past two games, and he was held without a catch for the first time in his career last Sunday vs. the New York Jets. He's frustrated, but Clayton said Wednesday that he's not ready to start calling for the damn ball, as former Bucs WR Keyshawn Johnson has notoriously done throughout his career.
"No, not at all, especially when we're 4-1," Clayton said. "This is a situation I love to be in. I love to win. I told you guys last year that I'd trade in all of my success last year for more wins and a playoff berth."
Clayton has been playing with a separated shoulder since preseason, and some believe that ailment has contributed to his slow start this year.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden recently suggested that Clayton "clearly wasn't the same" player this season, which is a sentiment the team's starting quarterback concurs with.
"Last year I had a great relationship with Michael and he made a bunch of plays for us," said Griese. "Now, he's been hurt a little bit this year. That's kind of kept him from, I don't know, you're going to have to ask him, but I think it's kept him a little bit from being the type of player he was last year. I fully expect him to get healthier and to get back to the form that he was last year."
But Clayton said Wednesday that his shoulder injury hasn't hindered his ability to run routes, get open or catch the football.
"No, not at all," Clayton said.
In fact, Clayton, who has played a huge role in rookie running back Cadillac Williams' success as a downfield blocker, begs to differ with the observation made by both his head coach and quarterback.
"I really can't say it's injury-related when I'm blocking linebackers and defensive linemen," Clayton said. "I think it's a whole lot easier catching balls than it is blocking those guys. I do that exceptionally well week after week."
While he's established himself as one of the league's best blockers, Clayton would like to be more involved in the passing game since he knows that will only help Tampa Bay's offense, which currently ranks 19th in the NFL, be more productive.
"I want to be more involved," said Clayton. "I can't really answer the question if I can be. That's not up to me. I do everything I can on the field to get open and do my job. It's up to Coach Gruden and the plays that are called, and Brian and what he sees. I haven't showed up as a player yet this season. I'm striving to be the best I can be and waiting on the opportunity to do what I can do to help our offense.
"Yes, I am a blocking receiver, and I know how to do that, but as a receiver you want to catch balls."
One thing that is helping Clayton deal with the lack of passes that are coming his way is the season WR Joey Galloway is having. Galloway has hauled in a team-leading 22 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns, and Clayton said he can't blame Griese for throwing Galloway's way as often as he has.
"Brian has definitely established confidence in Joey, and when you have a guy like that you tend to look his way a lot," said Clayton. "That's obvious, and that's acceptable, too. I just have to be more patient. You don't know when the ball is going to come to you. You just do what you can, and when the ball does come you have to make the best of it."
Through five games last year, Clayton had 23 catches for 301 yards and one touchdown. He posted his best numbers over Tampa Bay's final 11 games by catching 57 passes for 892 yards and six touchdowns. That said, Clayton realizes there's still plenty of time for the Bucs to find a way to get him more involved in the passing game.
"I haven't really had a lot of opportunities to catch the ball or do things with it," said Clayton. "All I know is it's early and the second quarter of the season just started. It's a long season, and there are many more chances to make plays and contribute to this offense. I'll just wait on that."
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