After a stellar rookie season Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton has had a rough three years. There were many issues that contributed to his woes, including numerous injuries. Following Wednesday's organized team activity Clayton discussed how he is doing.
"I feel good, man, body feels good," said Clayton. "I've been putting in the work. It's a big year for this team, especially the veteran guys coming in to take this thing to another level. The work has been good. So far everybody has been good about being here in OTA's, so we'll go from there.
"I just continue to work hard. I do my best to be a complete player, and to do whatever it takes to win. I'll always keep that attitude, and I'll always work hard, but it is time to turn it up a notch."
Going into the offseason some observers thought that wide receiver was one of the biggest needs on the team. The Buccaneers addressed the position, but did not bring in an established veteran receiver or use their first-round pick on a ball catcher. The team signed troubled veteran Antonio Bryant, who was out of the NFL last year, and selected Appalachian State receiver Dexter Jackson in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
Bryant is fighting to make the team, and has to earn a roster spot before earning a starting position. Jackson has a big challenge to beat out NFL veterans. Jackson likely will contribute primarily as a kick returner in his rookie season. Clayton was asked if it was a vote of confidence in the Buccaneers current receivers that the team did not acquire a more reputable ball catcher.
"It lets us know that what we're doing isn't wrong. Like I said, our wide receiving corps can compete with any wide receiver corps in the league, given the opportunity," said Clayton. "Different things happen over the course of a game. Our wide receivers play special teams. Sometimes we may be in a ‘U-package' and there's only one wide receiver on the field. You know everybody that is out there can get the job done. It all depends on what is the game plan, and what is the team objective. We all have to fall in that and get on board, and play our role. Sometimes in our careers, and statistically, we're hurt by that, but mentally you keep the team focused and you go out there and win ball games.
"I think that's why they like our receivers because we do whatever it takes to win. You see us out there on kick coverage and kick returns, you see us out there blocking defensive ends, and we're still getting the job done that not your average wide receiver can do, and we will catch the rock and take it to the house.
"The guys that we have in that room, we have a close niche. It says a lot when the team doesn't make moves. We're confident as a wide receiver corps that we can get the job done."
As a rookie, Clayton caught a team-high 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns, but things have been much different since then.
The past three seasons Clayton has had several injuries that have limited his playing time and production. He has had a dislocated shoulder, a knee sprain, a toe sprain, and a twisted ankle. From 2005 through 2007, Clayton caught 87 passes for 1,029 yards and one touchdown. Currently, Clayton says he is injury free and mentally stronger for having gone through it.
"I've matured, and I'm able to do that now that my body is healthy and just go about it," said Clayton.
"No nagging injuries, no knees, no shoulders, no feet, no toes," said Clayton. "It's a part of the game. I just had those problems. You take that it doesn't mean as much right now as it does during the season because obviously you have to stay healthy during the season as well. But right now you're able to get to work and improve your game because you're not injured. I'm never blaming it on injuries. I come out and I compete. I won't steer away from that. It's not been because of injuries that I've been held back. I go out there, I compete, I hit linebackers and I play hard. I will never say that's it because of injuries. Yes, I have been banged up but I won't ever put it on that."
When a reporter questioned if he had a lack of focus, Clayton seemed to take exception to that.
"When you talk about focus, focus on what?," Clayton asked. "Focus on catching the ball? Did you all really think I drop balls? I've dropped balls, but are you really labeling me as a guy who drops balls. Look at my catches, all right, look at my drops. Do the statistics.
"I wouldn't say that I'm a receiver who drops balls. Everybody drops some, but when opportunity calls that's when you have it, catch it, because that's when it counts the most. I haven't taken advantage of that. There have been some opportunities that I've missed out on. I made some great catches as well."
The former first-round pick seemed to be focused at the end of last season. He hauled in a 39-yard pass against Tennessee. After spraining his ankle on a 20-yard reception against Detroit on Oct. 20, Clayton missed two games. When he came back Clayton finished the season strong for the Bucs. He had a 20-yard run on a reverse against New Orleans. Then over his final four games he caught 16 passes for 192 yards.
In the last two games of the regular season Clayton caught five passes for 71 yards (14.2 avg.) at San Francisco, and had five receptions for 60 yards (12 avg.) against Carolina. In the playoff loss against the Giants, Clayton had three catches for 39 yards.
For Clayton, being healthy seemed to be a big part of his strong finish, and he acknowledged that.
"Yeah it was a big part of it. I still got banged up in Detroit. I still missed two games. That's a part of football, but I worked hard to get back," said Clayton.. "I was able to come out and finish hard, being able to be out there as a starter towards the end of the season. It gives you a new vibe and that's a confidence booster. You're playing more, that's a confidence booster more than anything. To be able to be in that position and let the team know I'm still playing hard, and I can still accomplish certain things was good."
Clayton discussed extensively his playing weight and rookie production to Pewter Report last month. Check back with Pewter Report over the next few days to see a video interview with Clayton.
As things stand right now Clayton has the opportunity to be a starting wide receiver opposite Joey Galloway. Being injury free, finishing last season strong, and having the chance to start, Clayton feels that this is the freshest he has been since his rookie year.
"I would say yeah," responded Clayton. "I would definitely say yes, because I have no fear. My main objective right now is to go out and utilize the opportunity that I've been given. I was able to finish the season off strong. Hopefully that sticks. My body is healthy I've been able to come out in OTA's and practice hard and we'll see what happens. Nothing is given in this league, you don't take anything for granted. You just continue to work hard once the opening day comes we'll see where we stand then, but until then, you never know what's going to happen."
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