WR Michael Clayton was looking forward to finishing the season strong before he was felled by a knee injury
Wide receiver Michael Clayton fought for every yard on the last of his four receptions at Pittsburgh on Sunday. With his Bucs trailing 10-0 and facing a second-and-nine at the Steelers' 14, Clayton caught a short pass over the middle and bounced off hard hits by safety Anthony Smith and linebacker James Farrior before falling at the Pittsburgh three.
Unfortunately, the end of that play was also the end of Clayton's third NFL season, as he suffered a left knee injury in the process. On Tuesday, the Buccaneers put Clayton on injured reserve and used the resulting roster spot to re-sign wide receiver Mark Jones. Clayton will not require surgery on his knee.
The Bucs also announced a pair of practice squad moves on Tuesday. After the Detroit Lions signed second-year defensive tackle Anthony Bryant off Tampa Bay's practice squad to their active roster, the Bucs used the open spot to sign former Buffalo Bills fullback Jon Goldsberry.
Clayton is the third starter the Buccaneers have put on injured reserve in the last 14 days, and the sixth overall this season. Most recently, guard Dan Buenning landed on the list on November 27 due to a knee injury suffered against Dallas four days earlier. Just before that, defensive end Simeon Rice had his season shut down on November 22 due to a shoulder injury that had plagued him all season.
Before the season was half over, the Bucs lost quarterback Chris Simms (spleen), cornerback Brian Kelly (foot) and tackle Kenyatta Walker (knee) to IR, as well. Two other non-starters are on the Bucs' 2006 injured reserve list: long-snapper Andrew Economos and rookie tight end T.J. Williams.
Still working to regain the prominent position in the Bucs' offense he held during his record-setting rookie season, Clayton had hoped to finish the 2006 campaign strong. Despite one memorable drop on Sunday, he finished the Pittsburgh game as the Bucs' leading receiver, with four catches for 57 yards. In all, Clayton caught 33 passes for 356 yards and one touchdown this season, good for second on the team in both categories.
Tampa Bay's first-round draft pick in 2004 and the 15th player selected overall, Clayton had a remarkable rookie campaign. His 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns set a trio of Buccaneer rookie records and made him one of the five most prolific first-year pass-catchers in NFL history.
However, slowed by offseason knee surgery and a variety of additional injuries, Clayton struggled to recapture that form in 2005. He played in 14 games and contributed 32 catches for 372 yards as the Bucs' passing attack began to center more on speedy veteran receiver Joey Galloway. Galloway is once again the Bucs' leading receiver in 2006, catching 44 passes for 734 yards and five touchdowns.
Overall, in 42 games as a Buccaneer, Clayton has 145 receptions for 1,921 yards and eight touchdowns. At Louisiana State, he hauled in 182 career passes for 2,582 yards and 21 touchdowns and helped the Tigers to a share of the national championship in 2003.
The 5-9, 185-pound Jones was on the Bucs' roster for the first nine weeks of this season, seeing action in four games, primarily as a punt returner. Active for each of the first four weeks, he returned 13 punts for 109 yards (8.4 avg.) before missing several weeks with a hamstring injury and eventually getting his release on November 13.
Jones, drafted by Tampa Bay in the seventh round in 2004, also spent all of 2005 with the Buccaneers and was the team's lone punt returner that season. His average of 9.6 yards on 51 punt returns in 2005 ranked fourth in the NFC and seventh in the NFL. Jones actually spent his '04 rookie campaign returning punts for the New York Giants but returned to the Bucs just before the start of the regular season last year.
The Bucs have mostly used veteran wide receiver Ike Hilliard and recently-acquired cornerback Phillip Buchanon to return punts over the last two months. Though Hilliard has proven particularly sure-handed and fearless on difficult short punts, the Bucs have had only one return of more than nine yards in the last four games.
The Bucs' new fullback, like the six-time Pro Bowler the team currently has starting at the position, hails from Purdue. Buffalo originally signed Goldsberry as an undrafted free agent in the spring of 2005 and found a spot for him on their practice squad for most of the following season. He was promoted to the Bills' active roster just before the final game of the year but was inactive for that contest. Goldsberry returned to Buffalo's training camp this summer but did not make the active roster.
The hard-nosed 6-1, 246-pound Goldsberry was primarily known as a special teams standout for the Boilermakers. In fact, he was named the Big Ten's "Best Special Teams Kamikaze" by The Sporting News in 2004. Also an all-academic pick at Purdue, Goldsberry played both linebacker and fullback in 2002 and 2003 and had 25 tackles as a sophomore in '02. He calls Santa Claus, Indiana home.
Bryant had been on the Bucs' practice squad for the entire season before getting the call from the Lions. A sixth-round draft pick by Tampa Bay in 2005, he played in four games as a rookie and recorded two tackles.