WR Michael Clayton has been starting at flanker since Antonio Bryant moved to split end to replace the injured Joey Galloway
The statistics for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Michael Clayton appear unassuming on the surface — 17 catches for 173 yards with no touchdowns — but his contributions to the team's current 5-2 record run much deeper than that.
Clayton made a number of key catches in the team's win over Seattle last Sunday and has been an active contributor on special teams and in the run game as an edge blocker. While the numbers don't tell the whole story, Clayton says he feels comfortable with his production and that the most important stats are wins and losses.
"I feel good," Clayton said. "I'm real confident in the way that I'm playing. I feel real good about producing a little bit and being able to be out there helping the team win in any case, playing special teams and catching some balls on offense. As a whole, it's been good, especially to be winning football games and being able to be a part of it."
Perhaps now more than at any point in the season, Clayton may be called upon to step up and ignite the offense in an even bigger way. With veteran wideouts Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard nursing foot and head injuries, respectively, and Maurice Stovall sidelined by a tweaked hamstring, the Bucs have a shortage of healthy bodies in the wide receiver corps.
As Antonio Bryant proved with his big game last week, the Bucs pride themselves on getting production from every man on the roster. And despite the injury bug biting the team's wide receiver group, Clayton isn't worried about any sort of regression in the team's passing attack.
"Here we've always had the motto that if somebody goes down, the next guy steps in and plays better," Clayton said. "Coach [Jon] Gruden does a great job preparing the guys for the situations that they'll be in in the ballgame, allowing them a good opportunity to do just that. So I feel real comfortable about the guys that we have surrounding us. Antonio Bryant has played great and Brian Clark can definitely step in and make some plays. We may see a little bit of Joey Galloway, he may be back this week. We'll sit patiently and wait, but I feel real comfortable about what we have in the room as wide receivers."
In fact, the amount of talent the Bucs have waiting to get healthy has Clayton excited about the explosive and versatile aerial attack the team may be able to display on the field in the near future.
"It means a lot to get those guys back," Clayton said of his injured fellow wide receivers. "It brings about a new offense, new formations, because once guys get out there and they're able to produce and you're able to see what they can do as individual players, you really narrow it down to when you need those guys out there, what situations, who you want out there.
"When guys get the opportunity to play, it makes everything better and when we have everybody out there, it's a good feeling. Everybody's flying around and everybody's able to produce."
While a fully healthy offense may be a dream that doesn't come true for a few more weeks, if at any point this season, the Bucs have still managed to field a very good unit. Currently ranked eighth in the NFL in average yards per game, Tampa Bay has shown few signs of slowing, despite playing without Galloway for nearly the entire year.
As surprising as it may be that the offense would continue to flourish without its top playmaker at wide receiver, Clayton said the experience he and the other wide receivers gained in training camp while Galloway was out helped prepare them for his prolonged absence in the regular season.
"It feels good what we've been able to accomplish on offense," Clayton said. "We put in a lot of work in the offseason. Galloway really didn't practice that much in training camp, so the way that we prepared as wide receivers was as if he was not there. I feel like everybody was on key with the quarterbacks, we still made plays and it's just an asset to have him when he comes back 100 percent. I feel real comfortable and we've worked hard in the offseason. We know what we have to do and everybody has the ability to do it."
The challenge that awaits Clayton and the rest of the offense this week is a banged-up Dallas Cowboys squad. With injuries robbing the Cowboys of starting safety Roy Williams and starting cornerback Terrence Newman — not to mention the loss of Tony Romo and Felix Jones on offense — Dallas will be at less than full strength come Sunday.
But Clayton and the Bucs won't be easing up in any way. The Cowboys still have a roster loaded with talent, and Clayton says he'll be looking forward to an intense matchup and the latest chance for a Buccaneer to step up and shine in the face of adversity.
"I just look forward to playing hard," Clayton said. "It's going to be a smash-mouth football game, we know that. We're going into their home and teams take pride playing in their homes. They're a team with a lot of pride. They've got a lot of great players, they have a great defense and we have to bring our A-game if we want to win. They really have no weaknesses, but we just have to go in and play a sound football game and play hard."