Clayton: "Regardless of what happens, I'll be on a team next year"
Embattled receiver Michael Clayton acknowledged Monday that the Bucs' drafting of two receivers and his large contract may put him in jeopardy of making the team.
But after beginning Organized Team Activities as one of the club's starting receivers, he vowed to put in the work and mentor young players as long as the Bucs will have him.
"Business-wise, it could be,'' Clayton said when asked if he was on the bubble. "But I know regardless of what happens, I'll be on a team next year.''
After signing a five-year contract worth nearly $26-million last year, Clayton had his worst season as a pro in 2009, catching 16 passes for 230 yards and one touchdown.
He is expected to fall further down the depth chart after the Bucs used a second round pick on Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn and a fourth-rounder on Syracuse receiver Mike Williams. The team also traded for Philadelphia receiver Reggie Brown. Sammie Stroughter (31) and Maurice Stovall (24) were more productive than Clayton last season.
"Every year it's been about work,'' Clayton said. "I've been in a lot of positions where I've had to climb from the bottom of the totem pole. That's no different from this year. I believe in my talents and what I can do to help this football team. I'm here as a mentor, as a leader and I'm going to want to be the starter.''
Clayton indicated a lot of factors conspired to limit his numbers in 2009, including three starting quarterbacks and a change of offensive coordinators when Jeff Jagodzinski was fired 10 days before the start of the regular season.
"We had a lot of things going on last year,'' Clayton said. "I would like to keep last year and let it be last year. We had a young quarterback come in half of the season who didn't get any reps. We had an offensive coordinator who was fired and we were going week-by-week. The positive things we take from last year is that everybody still continued to work. We didn't give up, regardless of the situation.''
Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Clayton looked good and caught the ball well in practice again Monday. But as Olson noted, Clayton always plays like a No. 1 receiver in the off-season.
"Mike always looks good this time of year,'' Olson said. "We said it today, and he has. Every year, you're going to come out of the spring saying, "Mike is the No. 1.' That's why he's going to be difficult to beat out.
"Who knows? You'd like to think it's not a confidence issue because you talk to Mike and he's a very confident person, a very confident player. But he makes all the catches out here. We just got done watching a training cut-up of our plays and these cut-ups go back four or five years ago. And here's Mike making a great catch...so we know that it's in him. And he's proven he can do it. He's just got to do it on a more consistent basis...For whatever reason, he's struggled a little bit.'
What was Clayton's reaction to the Bucs' selecting Benn and Williams?
"Finally, we drafted a receiver,'' Clayton said. "I've been here a long time and we haven't seen many guys drafted at receiver. I'm seven years in and at some point we've got to get the next guys in to be the young faces of this football team. I was fortunate to sign a new deal and I'm going to be here as long as they keep me. The work habits won't change. It's my job to make sure those guys are fully prepared and the best man is going to play.''
The biggest difference in 2010, according to Clayton, is that Josh Freeman is established as the Bucs' starting quarterback. The continuity at that position should help the Bucs receivers.
"I think now when you have a quarterback that's set and going to be the guy, we haven't had that consistency in a long time,'' Clayton said. "At wide receiver, that plays a huge part in what goes on at the perimeter. And Five (Freeman) is making that easy on all of us. It's going to boil down to who's out there at the specific time to make plays. The ball is definitely going to be thrown and we're all going to have opportunities.''