Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ready to Go

Thursday Notes: Michael Clayton can’t wait to get back into full-speed action...Bill Walsh believes the Bucs are playoff contenders...Latest signing: G/C Chris Watton

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After a surprisingly active rookie season, WR Michael Clayton has not enjoyed sitting still much of this offseason

Michael Clayton is the kid who showed up on the playground just as the rest of the neighborhood was getting called home for dinner.

Clayton, the intensely motivated second-year Tampa Bay Buccaneer receiver, has yet to practice fully this year due to a minor arthroscopic knee procedure in January. Determined to prove that his breakout rookie season was just a starting point, Clayton is almost ready to start working without limitations.

Unfortunately for him, the Buccaneers are about to start a month-long vacation.

On Wednesday, after participating in a limited fashion in Tampa Bay's organized team activity day, Clayton spoke about his eagerness to get back into the flow of the Buccaneers' offense. He is seriously champing at the bit, but the Buccaneers will soon be shutting operations down for five weeks, as soon as they complete next week's mini-camp.

"I'm just looking forward to getting on the field," said Clayton. "I'm a player who can't really sit still. To be back out here with the guys really brings your spirit up. When you put the pads on, it's even better, because that's what we live and die for."

Last fall, Clayton put together one of the best rookie seasons by a wide receiver in NFL history, catching 80 passes for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns. He seemed impossibly prepared for everything that came his way in 2004; in retrospect, the Bucs' repeated praise of Clayton's work last spring and summer was prophetic.

Not surprisingly, Clayton has displayed that same dedication this offseason, working hard in the film room even when his knee rehab has kept him out of the full-speed workouts. He has remained in the thick of the Bucs' offseason work even if he hasn't been in every huddle on the field.

That has allowed Clayton to remain involved in the team's spring and summer developments, and he has been very encouraged with what he has witnessed.

"We're definitely developing that chemistry that we need going into the season," he said. "Guys are committed to being here, guys are coming early and getting extra work after practice. It really says a lot about the maturity of the ball club. Young guys are stepping up and I really think that's going to be one of the important things for us this year."

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Walsh Likes What He Sees

After delivering an inspirational message to the players on Wednesday morning, Hall of Famer Bill Walsh stuck around to watch the day's 90-minute practice. Though the workout was limited – no contact, no one-on-one drills, etc. – Walsh came away impressed by what he had seen.

Given Walsh's proven eye for NFL talent, that's an encouraging evaluation for the Buccaneers, who have high hopes for the 2005 season.

"I do believe this is a contending team, no question about it," said the former San Francisco 49ers head coach and general manager. "They have a lot of tools. I was particularly impressed with [quarterback Brian] Griese, but the entire team has good speed, they know what they're doing and there's a lot of skill. So there isn't any reason to think that this team won't be a playoff team next year."

Walsh thinks the Bucs' emerging offense is in good hands with Griese at the helm.

"I think he's matured each year, and at this point he's at his very best," said Walsh of the Bucs' starter. "He's at the peak of his career, and I think that will demonstrate itself this year. I think he's at his absolute peak. He is a real veteran. He's an excellent passer; good touch; very intelligent. He fits Jon's system as well as anybody could fit it."

Gruden's system, in fact, is another reason that Walsh likes the Bucs' chances in 2005. Assuming that he can continue to put together the right personnel to run it, Gruden is a lock to find offensive success in the NFL, in Walsh's opinion.

"He's on the cutting edge of offensive football," said Walsh, who intends to root for the Buccaneers throughout the season. "I don't think there's anyone more innovative than Jon Gruden. So, consequently, I think he has a real edge on a lot of his opposition. Now, he has to have people who can effectively perform and execute. That's what it takes. It appears that this year is a lot better year.

"Does he have [the personnel] all together right now? I'm not sure of that, I wouldn't know. But I do know I was very impressed today."

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Bucs Sign Lineman

Even with another 101 players on the roster, the Bucs didn't allow their open roster space to stay unoccupied for long.

A spot on the offseason roster opened on Monday when the team released fifth-year quarterback Akili Smith. On Wednesday, the Bucs pushed the roster back to 102 men with the signing of first-year guard/center Chris Watton, most recently of the Arena Football League's Colorado Crush.

The 6-3, 305-pound Watton joined the Buccaneers in time to participate in Wednesday's organized team activity day practice. Tampa Bay is his fifth NFL team since he first joined the league in 2000 as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals.

Arizona released Watton before training camp, but he played in the NFL Europe League the following spring, prompting the Baltimore Ravens to take him to camp in 2001. He also went to camp with the Green Bay Packers in 2002 but was released at the end of the preseason on both occasions.

The Broncos signed Watton in September of 2002, and he spent most of the next two seasons on Denver's practice squad. Watton went back to camp with the Broncos last year but was released on September 5 and did not play in the league during the fall. However, he just completed the Arena Football League season, helping the Crush to the league championship.

In college, Watton lettered twice at Baylor after transferring from Southwest Mississippi Community College.

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