Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs' Clayton confident he will survive cut
TAMPA - While many of his Tampa Bay teammates played Saturday night's preseason game under the foreboding shadow of cut-down week, Michael Clayton never even broke a sweat. Literally. The 28-year-old wide receiver saw action only on special teams in a 19-13 loss to Jacksonville that could have marked the final time Clayton dressed in the home team locker room at Raymond James Stadium. "I showered anyway after the game," he said. "Force of habit."Clayton said he was told during the week that the Bucs wanted to evaluate their young receivers before NFL rosters are reduced from 80 to 75 by Tuesday. "We've got one more preseason game Thursday in Houston and hopefully, I'll get a chance to get out there," said Clayton, who signed a new deal in 2009 that included $10.5 million in guaranteed payouts. By Saturday, all NFL teams must reduce their rosters to the 53-man limit and Clayton said he anticipates a seventh season in Tampa. "I can't see it to be honest," he replied when asked if he expects to be cut. "I've got full confidence that I'll be here. You never know what's going to happen and I could be wrong. But with our youth, I would say in my opinion it would be beneficial (if) I would be here." The Bucs are waiting for Clayton to regain his spectacular 2004 form, when the first-round pick from LSU caught 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven TDs. In the next five years since his rookie season, Clayton has added only 141 catches for 1,743 yards and three touchdowns as he faded from the offense and became a natural target in the media and in the stands. "He's taken a lot of criticism in the last few years, but Michael Clayton has been a good teammate," said middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. "I don't know what's going to happen with Mike, but he has been a real professional around here. He's been upbeat and positive and I think he goes out of his way to help our younger guys." Yes, the same younger guys who are determined to beat Clayton out for a place on the regular-season depth chart. Clayton has formed a strong bond with rookie Mike Williams, who caught three passes for 83 yards against the Jags to continue an impressive preseason. "Clayton has been a key for what's been going on with me," said the fourth-round pick out of Syracuse. "Making me go into the film room with him to watch tapes of his rookie year has really helped my game. He shows me the tendencies of the corners, how to run a route the right way. ... Whatever he says seems to work for me." Clayton said working with Williams has been "a pleasure, a real joy," and he's looking forward to continuing that mentor role if he survives cut-down week. "I just feel with my experience and with the things I've been through, I can't see it any other way," Clayton said. "But those aren't my decisions to make. Ultimately, it's out of my control."
Reporter Ira Kaufman can be reached at (813) 259-7833.