The first day of OTAs (organized team activities) took place at One Buccaneer Place on Tuesday, and it was the first chance for the coaches and the media to get a look at the players on the field. Some players had really bulked up in the offseason, including defensive ends Gaines Adams and Charles Bennett, who looked bigger and stronger.
As for wide receiver Michael Clayton, the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2004, he looked downright skinny. Clayton, who over the years has bulked up to weights between 218-222 pounds, weighed just 208 pounds on Tuesday, resembling the physique he had as a rookie in 2004 in which he set a Tampa Bay rookie record with 80 catches for 1,193 and seven touchdowns.
Last year, Clayton was in pretty good shape, but was about 10-12 pounds heavier. Yet in 2008, the former LSU wide receiver has shed excess weight and is expecting his lanky frame to allow him to play a bit faster and quicker.
“Yeah, man, I’ve been going at it for a long time,” Clayton said of his new diet and training regimen that has allowed him to trim down. “Now I’m healthy. You learn something new every year. You eat right and take care of your body. I’m 208 [pounds], but I’m more chiseled.”
Clayton’s weight loss came about in part by talking to Bucs head coach Jon Gruden in the offseason. After the 2004 season, Gruden wanted Clayton to hit the weights and bulk up in the 220-pound range like Pro Bowl receiver Terrell Owens. But that decision backfired, and the extra weight ended up slowing down his recovery from offseason knee injury in 2005, and contributed to three injury-plagued years from 2005-07 in which he caught only 87 passes for 1,029 and one touchdown.
“Me and Gruden, we always have our talks,” Clayton said. “I’m just taking a lot of the information that he’s given me this offseason about the way to train. He was talking to me about Sterling Sharpe and some of the great receivers he coached and their work ethic. I’ve got to take mine to the next level. This is a big year for me. I’m coming in as a leader and I’m excited about it.
“A couple of extra pounds were added [over the years] because I wasn’t able to work out like I wanted to. My rookie year, I came in at 210 pounds and I think that’s the best shape I’ve ever been in during my life. That’s my playing weight – anything more than that and I’m adding extra stress to my knees. Being 208 is the perfect playing weight for me and that’s what I’ll be.”
Despite three disappointing seasons in Tampa Bay from a statistical standpoint, the Bucs have refused to give up on Clayton. The team values his physical style of play, especially blocking downfield and on special teams, as well as his positive, team-first attitude. The fact that the Buccaneers still believe in him really motivates Clayton.
“It means a lot. Basically, I’ve answered the call and done what they have asked me to do,” Clayton said. “They have been patient with me and let me work through my injuries and have not given up on me. It says a lot about the organization and puts me mentally at ease. I have a family now and stability is one of those things that helps your mind. The only thing I can do to give back to the organization is to work 110 percent. I think that they know that and I’ll do anything it takes to win. You have to have guys like that on your team.”
After posting just three catches for 36 yards in Tampa Bay’s first five games in 2007, Clayton turned in his biggest play of the year – a 39-yard catch – in the team’s 13-10 win over Tennessee, finishing that game with two grabs for 53 yards. He seemed to be building some momentum, catching a 20-yard pass against Detroit in the first quarter of that game the following week.
But Clayton sprained his ankle on that play and missed the next two weeks. Upon his return, he was held without a catch over the next three games – at Atlanta, versus Washington and at New Orleans – but did show that he had returned to health on a 20-yard reverse against the Saints. That big play sparked a string of production over the final four games that saw him record 16 catches for 192 yards with a 19-yard gain at Houston, a 25-yard catch at San Francisco and a 21-yard grab against Carolina.
In his 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 Tampa Bay’s playoff game against New York, Clayton had three catches for 39 yards.
But just when Clayton was beginning to show his old form, the season came to an abrupt end, 24-14. Still, Clayton hopes to build on the strong finish to the end of the 2007 campaign.
“Definitely. Just knowing you are out there getting balls, it puts you in a different mind frame,” Clayton said. “Being a starter, catching balls and being involved in the offense, that’s what takes some time. I finished the season strong and I’m going to put together a great offseason with these guys and come back healthy next year and have a great start.”
Clayton was asked if he felt like he could ever return to the days of catching 80 passes in Tampa Bay’s offense, even with the presence of number one receiver Joey Galloway. Galloway, who has led the Bucs in receiving in each of the last three seasons, has averaged 67 catches per year compared to Clayton’s average of 29 receptions over that span.
“That’s realistic for the simple fact that we have a quarterback here that knows how to distribute the ball,” Clayton said of Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia. “You have to be prepared to catch the ball no matter where you are on the field. When you have a guy like that, you can easily have five or six catches in the first quarter. Making the best of anything thrown my way is going to be my motto this year, and I look forward to it.”
Clayton sees draft-eligible receivers such as Houston’s Donnie Avery and Cal’s DeSean Jackson that Tampa Bay is bringing in for pre-draft visits at One Buc Place. He knows that the team will add another player or two in 2008 – possibly in the first round – and although he realizes he must become much more productive this year, he isn’t afraid of the competition.
“The more the merrier. Orlando is hot up there,” Clayton said of the Bucs’ annual training camp destination. “The more bodies we can have the better. The more athletes you can have that know our offense, the better we will be. We have our core [of wide receivers]. We have a group of guys that has been here a while now that has laid the foundation. We’re in the business of trying to create a legacy. We’ve given some games away and we’re just not in the business of that any more. We don’t want to give away any more. We want to bring the Super Bowl [trophy] back, especially next year.”
If the goal is to get back to his 2004 production, Clayton has gotten off to the right start by getting down to his 2004 playing weight. In keeping with the 2004 theme, Clayton is going back and studying his game tape from his rookie year for insight and motivation.
“Every day, man. I just actually made a DVD of all my games and I go upstairs and watch the film of what I did,” Clayton said. “In 2004, it wasn’t that I had a lot of flashy plays. Well, I had a couple (laughs). I did have a couple, but the majority of my catches were inside, catching the ball and getting upfield. I believe that I am that kind of receiver, and I will take it to the next level. I’m smarter now and I’m healthy. I can actually make some moves in the open field. That’s what Coach Gruden wants to see. That’s what Coach Gruden is going to get.”
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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: email@example.com