The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used their sixth-round draft pick to select Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay, who is a tremendous return specialist. After years of coaching Devin Hester, the NFL’s all-time return touchdown leader, in Chicago, Bucs head coach Lovie Smith wanted to find another Hester, and Clay has the ability to be a great returner in Tampa Bay.
Even if Clay settled for being the next Clifton Smith for the Buccaneers that would be fine, as Smith returned both a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown and made the Pro Bowl in 2006.
In one year at Utah, Clay returned 23 punts for 346 yards (15.0 avg.) with three touchdowns in 2014, while also returning 22 kicks for 548 yards (24.9 avg.) and one touchdown. Clay also used his 4.45 speed to catch 43 passes for 523 yards (12.2 avg.) with four touchdowns for the Utes.
“I feel like that’s a big part of my game,” Clay said. “I really pride myself on special teams, kick return and punt return. But you know, also just the full aspect of being a special teams player, going down and making tackles, and being a gunner on kickoffs and punts, those things. I believe that special teams are maybe the most important part of the game because it can control field position. What our coaches asked us to do at Utah was get a first down. If you get a first down on a kick return or a punt return, that’s ten less yards that we have to go. You can flip the field and get better field position for your offense, which gives you a greater chance of scoring and it also helps your defense as well.”
Clay is probably best known for his costly blunder against Oregon that turned what could have been a 14-0 lead into a 7-7 tie game against the Ducks.
“Going back to that play, it was actually probably my favorite play and I didn’t get to score on it,” Clay said. “But just that play in general, it’s helped me grow as a person, not just a football player. Things aren’t always going to go the way you want them to go, it’s how you go through adversity. That play, I’ve become a better person and not take things for granted. Not everything is promised, and like I said, things are going to happen, adversity is going to happen but it’s how you get through it. Do you let it bring you down or do you keep going forward? I feel like I’ve gotten through it with a lot of support from my friends and my family. Like I said, it’s just made me a better person overall.”
Clay, who originally enrolled at California, spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons at Mt. San Antonio College where he caught 90 passes for 1,654 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also averaged 34.5 yards per kick return in his two seasons with five touchdowns, and led Mt. SAC in punt returns in 2013 with 17 for 245 yards (14.4 average) and one touchdown. Bucs special teams coordinator Kevin O’Dea worked out Clay at Utah in March.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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