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Good to Go: Clayton, Others Helped by Time Off

Did the bye week improve the Bucs’ health? WR Michael Clayton says it came at a good time and he, for one, is ready to return against Atlanta…Also, the team signs former Bengals CB Keiwan Ratliff


The bye week was well-timed for WR Michael Clayton, who is working to overcome an ankle injury suffered in Week Seven

Did the bye week improve the Bucs' health? WR Michael Clayton says it came at a good time and he, for one, is ready to return against Atlanta…Also, the team signs former Bengals CB Keiwan Ratliff

Michael Clayton feels good.

That's not something you often hear from an NFL football player on an autumn Monday. Even those men deemed "healthy" after each game are usually significantly sore the next day. There's a reason teams generally don't start practicing again until Wednesday.

But Clayton feels good on this particular Monday, and that's the beauty of the bye week. None of the Buccaneers who gathered on the practice field for a 90-minute "bonus" session were working through the strains and bruises of a game contested the afternoon before. Clayton, in fact, hasn't played in 22 days.

"It helped out a lot," said the fourth-year wide receiver of the Buccaneers' bye week, which was situation as late in the season as possible – Week 10. "We got a lot of guys back this week. It makes this team that much stronger. It came at a good time. Unfortunately, I got injured, but I had almost a month to heal."

After the practice, Clayton declared himself "definitely back" and "full-go" for next Sunday's Atlanta game. He hasn't played since suffering an ankle injury on the second snap of the game at Detroit on October 21.

The Buccaneers went into the bye with a long list of players who were dealing with nagging injuries, including five – Clayton, linebacker Quincy Black, defensive end Patrick Chukwurah, running back Michael Pittman and defensive end Greg Spires – who were unable to play against Arizona in Week Nine. There won't be a solid indication as to how many of those players are likely to be available against the Falcons until Wednesday when the team releases its first injury report.

However, both Clayton and Pittman expressed their belief that they would return this week. Pittman has missed four games since suffering his own ankle injury at Indianapolis on October 7.

Head Coach Jon Gruden was more reserved in his judgments on Monday, perhaps unwilling to become too optimistic after the team's seemingly endless run of injuries in the first half.

"I don't know [if they will return]; maybe so," said Gruden. "They both ran around a little bit today. We could probably better answer that after we see them on Wednesday. We hope to have a couple guys back, but we'll see.

"We've suffered some injuries and I think getting some guys back will help us. But at the same time, we realize we have a tough opponent waiting for us. We'll decide who's healthy here in the next couple days."

Or, to be more exact, they'll determine who is healthy enough to suit up. Clayton isn't claiming that four extra days of rest (the team was given Thursday-Saturday off) cured all of his ills, but it was enough to make him feel like cracking the pads again.

"You never play this game a hundred percent," said Clayton. "I can run routes, I can get open, I can be physical. That's all that matters right now. I feel good about where I am. I definitely feel good about Maurice Stovall's progress; he's going to be able to get in and make some plays and help us out. And Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard are on a roll.

"The most important thing is that we've got four guys in our room right now that are ready to play. We have a lot of guys ready to make plays and a lot of power in that position. When you have guys that are injured and your young guys are able to step up and get some playing time, it's very crucial to the second half of the season because we're going to need as much depth as we can get."


Bucs Sign Ratliff

The team's player personnel department stayed busy during the bye week, as reflected in a series of roster moves made before Monday's morning practice.

Most notably, the Buccaneers signed fourth-year cornerback Keiwan Ratliff to their active roster. Wide receiver Chas Gessner was released to make room on the 53-man list.

In addition, the team made a switch on the eight-man practice squad, signing wide receiver Brian Clark, a Tampa native, and releasing cornerback Darrell Hunter.

Ratliff played three full seasons plus the first three games of the 2007 campaign with the Cincinnati Bengals before being released on September 26. He was originally drafted by the Bengals in the second round in 2004, the 49th player selected overall.

In his first three years in Cincinnati, the 5-11, 188-pound Ratliff played in all 48 games and made eight starts, including five during his rookie season. During that span he tallied 100 tackles, three interceptions, 12 passes defensed, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. In 2005, Ratliff was the Bengals' nickel back, starting three games and notching a career-high 47 tackles while snaring all three of his career picks.

Ratliff is also an accomplished punt returner and an asset on special teams. He was the Bengals' primary punt returner for most of his first three NFL seasons, averaging 7.5 yards on 72 career runbacks. As a cover man on kickoffs and punts, Ratliff contributed 10 tackles and a forced fumble.

Ratliff's name will be familiar to many in-state fans, as he was a collegiate star with the Florida Gators before graduating to the NFL. In 2003, he was named the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year by The Sporting News after setting a school record with nine interceptions.

Given his array of skills, the Buccaneers could eventually slot Ratliff into a number of different roles.

"We're going to find out [how to use him]," said Gruden after Ratliff's first Buc practice on Monday. "We liked him coming out of Florida. He's a guy that made a lot of plays, an opportunistic player, a guy we think can help us on special teams. But we can better answer that here in the next week or so."

Clark (6-2, 204) joined the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2006 and eventually appeared in six regular-season games during his rookie season. Though he spent more than half of the season on the Broncos' practice squad, Clark still led the team in kickoff returns (23) and kickoff return yards (512), averaging 22.3 yards per runback. He also caught four passes for 23 yards during his time on the active roster.

Clark made the team again this season and appeared in four games before being waived just last week. Though he was born in Jacksonville, Clark played his high school football in Tampa. As a senior, he helped lead Chamberlain High School to the Class 5A state championship.

Gessner, who went to training camp with the Buccaneers this summer, had been re-signed on October 31. He played in the team's Week Nine victory over Arizona on special teams.

Hunter was also signed to the Buccaneers' practice squad on October 31.

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