Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Making His Mark

Rookie receiver Michael Clayton has been very impressive in his two months as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer...just ask his head coach

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WR Michael Clayton has impressed Head Coach Jon Gruden in every way in Clayton's two months as a Buccaneer

Jon Gruden says he likes Michael Clayton 'tremendously,' and excuse us for saying so, but that's fairly obvious. Word is, Charlie Brown likes the little red-headed girl, too.

Gruden hasn't tried to hide his approval of the man his Tampa Bay Buccaneers chose in the first round of April's draft; obviously, the Bucs' head coach isn't worried about this very level-headed rookie becoming big-headed instead. Clayton has earned his praise in just two months as a Buccaneer, working hard, performing well on the practice field and humbly trying to perfect his craft.

There's a long way to go, of course. The former Louisiana State star will be in for an extended test when the Bucs hit training camp at the end of July, but through last week's mini-camp, Clayton had done everything right.

"I was impressed with every aspect of Michael Clayton," said Gruden after the fifth of five mini-camp practices. "He's a big, physical, tough guy with great hands, and he learns quick. What he did since the draft, learning this system and operating against a great defensive team, says a lot. I think he sincerely wants to be great. He understands his responsibility as a number-one draft choice and he's a heck of a football player. I can attest to that."

So far, Clayton has struck the perfect chord for a rookie who may end up with a significant role during the regular season. He has been confident but open to every bit of input, and he's adopted a very satisfying team-first attitude. Gruden has responded by putting in extra time to get his young receiver ready, something he is all too willing to do.

"I'm very happy, very happy," said Clayton, in a sense echoing Gruden's assessment of where he is at the end of the offseason. "Everybody's put in work. [Wide Receivers] Coach Richard Mann has done an excellent job getting me prepared, as well as the other guys. Coach Gruden has even pulled me in for some one-on-one meetings with him to make sure that I'm running the right concepts. It's just a group effort. And I think from my past that's what I've learned. It's all about family and when you get everybody working together on the same page, that creates championship ball clubs."

At this time of year, Gruden particularly wants to see all of his offensive players on the same page of the playbook at the same time. His system is complex in some ways, and it only takes one of 11 men with an unclear grasp on a particular play to cause a breakdown. Clayton is studying hard to make sure he is not that man.

"It's coming along great," said Clayton of his offensive education. "At first it was a little hard because I didn't know the concepts. I was basically learning my position. Now I'm starting to get relaxed about the concepts, about what everybody does. And basically once you can line up right, when you know the concept you know exactly what you have to do. So it's becoming real easy now."

Clayton admits that his rookie status makes him more of a question mark than some of the other new offensive weapons the Bucs have brought in, such as wide receiver Joey Galloway and running back Charlie Garner. Clayton has been impressed with how quickly Galloway has been able to apply experiences from other NFL offenses into learning the Bucs' offense. The rookie knows he lacks NFL game experience, but he is trying to make up for his inexperience with all-out effort.

"I think it's the mentality that makes you a rookie," he said. "My mentality is that my effort and intensity can match anybody on this team. The main thing is being mentally strong, knowing that you can go out there and compete. I feel like I can compete so it helps relax me."

Clayton is fortunate that he has a coach who clearly believes in what he can do, even after only a few months together. Of course, that same coach is also very demanding, and every bit as intense as Clayton is trying to be. Gruden doesn't hesitate to line up across from his receivers during offense-only drills and serve as an impromptu cover man.

Gruden gives his receivers a defensive look by doing so, but he also offers an implicit challenge. Clayton loves it.

"That's the kind of coach that I'm used to," he said. "We had that in LSU. I'm used to the coaches getting involved. When I first got here, Coach said he was going to give us 110 percent effort. And in return he was going to expect that from us. And that's just him living up to his word, giving 100 percent effort. It's hot out there, he's out there running, trying to make us the best athletes we can be. In return we give him the same."

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