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Tampa Bay Bucs receiver Michael Clayton optimistic despite uncertain job status

TAMPA — Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson showed his rookie receivers film cut-ups Monday of routes and receptions by veteran players — including several produced over the years by Michael Clayton.

"These guys aren't just going to lie down and give you their jobs," Olson told his new players.

But Clayton acknowledged Monday that the Bucs' drafting of two receivers and his large contract may put his job in jeopardy. After beginning organized team activities on Monday, 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, catching 16 passes for 230 yards and one touchdown.

He is expected to fall 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 catches) and Maurice Stovall (24) were more productive than Clayton last season.

"Every year it's been about work," said Clayton, 27. "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 said many factors limited his numbers in 2009, including three starting quarterbacks and a change of offensive coordinators when Jeff Jagodzinski was fired 10 days before 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."

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 offseason.

"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."

Re-signing Clayton could prove to be one of the worst decisions by general manager Mark Dominik. But the Bucs' options now are limited. They can cut their losses or allow Clayton to compete and hope he doesn't suffer a season-ending injury. Most likely, Clayton will get the Chris Simms treatment and linger until the final roster cut. Under that scenario, Clayton will work off some of the $10 million guaranteed while the Bucs hope for another team to suffer a rash of receiver injuries and create trade value.

The biggest difference in 2010, according to Clayton, is that Josh Freeman is established as the starting quarterback. The continuity at that position should help the 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."

Bucs coach Raheem Morris always has been a big advocate for Clayton, daring reporters to question why he was on the team after a five-catch, 93-yard performance in a 34-21 loss to Dallas in the season opener last year. His tone has softened since.

"He has to define his role, just like we all do," Morris said. "It's a competitive league.

"I got to respect how he came to work today. He played hard, he worked hard and he went out there and competed with the young guys. He'll continue to do that and he's got to get better."

Tampa Bay Bucs receiver Michael Clayton optimistic despite uncertain job status 05/17/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 18, 2010 8:22am]
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