Clayton expects to have big year with Bucs
TAMPA, Fla. – The big contract Michael Clayton signed three months ago isn’t the only reason the sixth-year pro is excited to still be wearing the uniform of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
An underachiever who fell out of favor with former coach Jon Gruden, the wide receiver anticipates playing a significant role in a system being installed by incoming offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski.
Judging by the smile he’s sporting these days, he’ll be a much bigger part of what the Bucs do.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity. I couldn’t have asked for a better deal,” said Clayton, who agreed to a five-year contract worth nearly $26 million in March, remaining with the Bucs after being on the verge of signing with the Seattle Seahawks.
“It seems like yesterday. I remember the feeling of getting on that plane headed to Seattle and wondering how I was going to explain to my wife that we weren’t going to be in Tampa any more. … I’m just glad things worked out the way they did.”
The former No. 1 draft pick flourished as a rookie, with 80 receptions for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns – all records for a first-year player in Tampa Bay. His production declined sharply after 2004, though, and he has only scored two TDs since his first year.
Injuries were a factor, but so was Gruden losing confidence in the 26-year-old, who dropped passes in key situations and struggled to keep his starting job.
Clayton welcomes the chance for a fresh beginning under new coach Raheem Morris, a Gruden assistant who replaced his boss after Tampa Bay lost four in a row following a 9-3 start to miss the playoffs.
“He hasn’t lived up to your expectations,” Morris said, shurgging off questions about the 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver being a disappointment for much of his career.
“The reason we signed him back is because he lived up to ours. If you go look at receivers pound for pound in the league and talk about blocking downfield and creating big plays, putting their face on people and being tough, that’s Michael Clayton.”
Clayton is considered one of the NFL’s best blocking receivers. He thinks can be a premier pass catcher, too.
Jagodzinski, the former Boston College coach who encourages his quarterbacks to throw downfield more often than the Bucs did under Gruden, offers hope, with an attacking offensive style.
“It’s a different mentality, I can tell you that,” said Clayton, who had 38 catches for 484 yards and one TD in 2008 – his best numbers since his rookie year.
“That’s not to say anything negative about coach Gruden. We all know he’s a genius when it comes to putting together offenses. But the mentality that we have is we are going to score points. I can remember times (under Gruden) when all the receivers were taken out of the game in the red zone, and we’re throwing to tight ends.”
Practices could be just as frustrating, with the receiver noting there were plenty of occasions when he might have one ball thrown his way “every two days,” a sure sign that he would have a minimal role in the passing game on game day.
“It’s not a good feeling,” said Clayton, who joked that he’s been so involved in practices this offseason that sometimes it feels like “we’re catching too many passes, running too many routes.”
“When you have that feeling, and you can actually take a break and come to the sideline to watch the next group of guys go in and get balls down the field, you know this thing is not going to stop,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to go out and know the coach has confidence in his receivers and is going to get everyone involved.”