The competition at the wide receiver position opposite of mainstay Joey Galloway has been heated the entire preseason. Veterans like David Boston and Ike Hilliard are pushing youngsters Maurice Stovall and Michael Clayton for playing time. Clayton and Stovall have been seen after every practice during the preseason playing catch and running routes.
Clayton, who is in his fourth year with the Bucs, has taken Stovall, in his second year, under his wing. Even though Clayton is battling with Stovall for playing time at the Z (flanker) position, he has shared his experiences in the offense with the talented receiver from Notre Dame.
Clayton sees the talent that Stovall possesses and wants to see him succeed as much as he wants his own success. The former LSU wide receiver knows that a roster spot isn’t a given this season, but believes that he and Stovall could make for a dangerous tandem in the future if Clayton remains with the Bucs.
“The progess that he’s made since he’s been here is one that I can respect,” Clayton said. “He’s like a little brother to me and I always told him that I’m here for him. We share advice, we work out together after practice and we want the same thing for each other. I want to see him succeed, he wants to see me succeed. So I think in the future that’s a good tandem, you know we are both still young, we have a lot of years left in the league and when it’s our time to shine – as young guys right now we have a lot of veterans out here – we’ll do that. But from the bottom of my heart, I definitely want to see him succeed because he’s a great player.”
The difference in this season’s camp for Clayton is the fact that he’s healthy for the first time in two seasons. He also believes that the competition at the wide receiver position has been a healthy one and it has pushed the receivers to get better.
“There’s a little bit more competition-wise, I’m healthy and the effort and the work we have been putting out has increased heavily because we have to win,” Clayton said. “Our backs are in a corner and I think as veteran guys we have to do whatever it takes to win. I think we are putting a lot of pressure on wide receivers to make some plays. There haven’t been many or as much as we would like in the past and we are just trying to change that up a little bit.”
Clayton’s time with the Bucs has been like a roller coaster ride and he’s looking to get this ride back on track after falling off the past two seasons. In his rookie season, Clayton was the Bucs' No. 1 option in the passing game with 80 receptions for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns.
However, Clayton has struggled through two injury-riddled seasons with 55 receptions combined and one touchdown. The lasting image of Clayton dropping touchdown passes in Pittsburgh and New York last season is something Clayton takes responsibility for, but isn’t going to let it linger in his mind. He just wants to keep working hard and make up for the bad memories that Bucs fans remember from the past.
“Keep doing what I’m doing and I think that’s all the way across the board. I think people are going to remember definitely if I haven’t been productive, they are going to remember the drops,” Clayton said. “But there’s nothing different, obviously take advantage of the opportunity. I dropped a few balls last year, but just take advantage of the opportunities like that. Clearly, I don’t drop balls like that, but I did and I’ve put the blame on me. It’s past me. I’m not worried about it. People can talk as much as they want, but that’s not going to change how I motivate myself to get in there and make plays.”
BUCS OFFENSE SEEING 3-4 DEFENSE AGAIN
For the second time in three weeks, the Bucs will face the 3-4 scheme against the Miami Dolphins on Saturday night. In the first game of the preseason, the New England Patriots ran the 3-4 defense exclusively against the Bucs. The Dolphins run the 3-4 scheme, but can also implore some of the 4-3 defense at times.
With linebacker Joey Porter out for the preseason and defensive end Jason Taylor possibly being held out by head coach Cam Cameron, the Bucs may not get a true look at the kind of 3-4 defense that the Dolphins run. However, it gives the offense another look at a base 3-4 scheme to prepare for with the possibility of facing a similar defense during the regular season.
“Well these guys are little different. Now when [Jason] Taylor and [Joey] Porter play together they are going to be very unique,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “I don’t know whether either of them are going to play or whether either of them aren’t. They are a different breed because of their style. The front might look the same, but there’s different variables within it. New England does a great job in their interpretation of it and Miami’s got a whole new ballgame under Dom Capers. It’s going to help our offense get ready for some of the odd fronts we might see in the regular season, but it involves careful preparation.”
BATTLE FOR BACKUP QB POSITION CONTINUES
Even though quarterback Jeff Garcia has been named the starter, quarterbacks Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski are still fighting for the backup spot. McCown seemed to have a firm grip on the No. 2 position after a stellar performance against New England, going 7-for-7 with 68 yards and one touchdown. Gradkowski, however, pulled even with McCown after leading two scoring drives in the fourth quarter against Jacksonville and finishing the game 7-for-11 for 113 yards and one touchdown.
Gruden is going to start Garcia against the Dolphins on Saturday night to get him some reps, but it will be McCown and Gradkowski that will get the most attention. McCown is 16-for-20 for 134 yards and one touchdown in the preseason compared to Gradkowski who is 13-for-22 for 163 yards and one touchdown. Gruden wants to use the Miami game as the deciding factor on who will win this battle.
“I don’t have tentative plans, we have plans that are sure fire with [Jeff] Garcia,” Gruden said. “Once again, we are going to start Garcia. How long he plays depends a little bit on how it goes honestly. We want to see a lot more [Luke] McCown, we want to see a lot more Bruce [Gradkowski]. We want to figure out who the second-team quarterback is and who the third-team quarterback is. We know who our starter is.”
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