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Bucs reroute Clayton in wake of Galloway injury

Receiver Michael Clayton, right, celebrates a preseason touchdown with Earnest Graham. Clayton hasn’t scored a regular-season TD since 2006. He had seven TDs as a rookie in 2004.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Receiver Michael Clayton, right, celebrates a preseason touchdown with Earnest Graham. Clayton hasn’t scored a regular-season TD since 2006. He had seven TDs as a rookie in 2004.

TAMPA — Michael Clayton doesn't look at Sunday's game against the Bears as just another chance to start. He's starting over.

The Bucs' beleaguered receiver, who was inactive in the opener at New Orleans, said Wednesday that he will replace Joey Galloway in the lineup.

Galloway, 36, sprained his right foot Sunday against the Falcons and isn't expected to practice this week or play. Clayton will start at flanker, and Antonio Bryant will move to Galloway's position at split end.

"I've been told I will be starting, so we'll see what happens," Clayton said. "It's a lot of opportunity for every wide receiver that will be out there.

"This is one I've been waiting for. It's a tremendous opportunity. It couldn't have come at a better time. It's early in the season, so I'll get a lot of plays out there."

A first-round pick in 2004, Clayton went from rookie of the year consideration to an afterthought in the Bucs offense. Last season, he caught a career-low 22 passes. He has one touchdown since his rookie season and that score came in 2006.

Clayton, 25, caught the only pass thrown in his direction this season — a 6-yarder Sunday — but he finally will get a chance to play a larger role.

"Michael Clayton I'm sure will get an opportunity to slam down the door and re-arrive here," coach Jon Gruden said. "I think he's worked his butt off, and I'm looking forward to seeing him take advantage of this chance."

The Bucs have been looking for another receiver to take the baton from Galloway, who has been plagued by injury since late last season. A shoulder injury rendered him ineffective in the NFC wild-card playoff loss to the Giants.

Galloway missed all of training camp and the preseason with a groin strain. Now the foot injury.

"He hasn't had this problem," Gruden said. "He's had some problems lately. Chalk it up to age. Chalk it up to experience — whatever. But he hasn't played, he hasn't practiced and he hasn't done a lot. It's too bad, because he's really a talent.

"We're not just going to stand there and be fetal, whether we have Galloway or not. We're going to be there, and we're going to give it our best shot."

Bryant, who did not play last season, has shown flashes of brilliance. But with three catches for 43 yards, the 27-year-old looks like a guy still trying to play his way into shape.

The leading receiver still is 32-year-old Ike Hilliard. Although relegated to third-down duty, Hilliard has 10 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.

"He's been a part of two division title teams here, and for some reason, people don't think he's as good as I guess maybe I do," Gruden said of Hilliard. "But Ike catches it, he gets open, he can play any position, he's a good blocker, he's a good football player. … Maurice Stovall wants to play. And Antonio Bryant is a good player. I'm just promising Bucs fans, this guy is a talented guy that has a real chance. We've got to rally around our guys, and we'll try to get Dexter (Jackson) in there a time or two."

Jackson, a second-round pick from Appalachian State used as a returner so far, has Galloway-like speed to stretch the field. On Wednesday, he received word that he could have some plays on offense against the Bears.

"Coach Gruden had a little note telling me to be ready to play this weekend," Jackson said.

Clayton had his best year with Brian Griese at quarterback in 2004. He hopes they can recapture that chemistry Sunday.

"As receivers, sometimes we feel like we're open when they take those shots to Joey," Clayton said. "I think there are a lot of opportunities to keep the chains moving in some pass situations where we've kind of missed out trying to go for the big shot. So it'll open up a lot of stuff.

"I've been hungry, man. I've been hungry for five years. Nothing has changed, my mentality hasn't changed. Opportunity has changed, and I'm looking forward to taking advantage of it."

Bucs reroute Clayton in wake of Galloway injury 09/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 18, 2008 9:06pm]

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