WR Michael Clayton knows he has to earn a job once training camp begins
The pen – being, as we've often heard, mightier than the sword – can affect great change. Michael Clayton is about to find that out.
The first two months of Michael Clayton's Buccaneer experience, those that followed his first-round selection in the draft, were a honeymoon-like exhibition of his skills. Clayton made the most of that period by displaying a wonderful work ethic and shining on the practice field, but it was bound to be a period of giddy hope.
Then came July and the lull before training camp. No practices, no film sessions, (almost) no injuries; the focus shifted to the contract work needed to get Clayton and his fellow draftees into camp. Nothing turns the optimism of a high draft pick into a bitter pill quicker than a holdout. Those have been virtually non-existent in Tampa over the last decade, but one never knows until the deal is signed. So, for July, there was really only that one question surrounding Clayton.
But on Friday, Clayton took pen to paper and put the contract issue behind him. And that changed everything.
Now, immediately, comes the weight of expectations. The honeymoon is over, and the Bucs could really use a productive season out of their prized rookie. Training camp, and even more so the upcoming games, will make it clear whether or not Clayton is ready to contribute.
Head Coach Jon Gruden, who has been thoroughly impressed with Clayton to this point, thinks this new phase is going to go very well.
"Obviously, we have high expectations," said Gruden. "We're going to do everything we can to join forces. I think (Wide Receivers Coach) Richard Mann, (Offensive Coordinator) Bill Muir, myself, Michael Clayton...we have to work together to truly max out what kind of football player he can be. But, obviously, we have very high expectations for him to have not only a very good rookie season but a very good career here."
Clayton heads into camp with his eyes wide open regarding the team's expectations. He also harbors no false comfort about what will be needed to meet those expectations. That is, he knows it's not going to be easy.
"It's another level," he said. "Once you make the step up from college to pro, obviously everything about football intensifies. Everything goes up a level. More workouts, more practices, more hours. That's one of the big things about it – being totally, totally, totally committed to what you want to succeed in here for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers."
Surprisingly, Clayton is the first 'skill-position' first-round rookie ever for Gruden. He is clearly eager to work with this multi-faceted talent under the distraction-free umbrella of training camp. Gruden believes Clayton will only be more impressive when the pads go on and the intensity of practice is ratcheted up a notch or five.
"I think when the pads are put on you're going to see the best of Michael Clayton," he said. "He's a contact player. He plays the game very physically for the position that he plays. We think he's got a chance to be outstanding."
Clayton appears to understand the difference that has been wrought by his pen. Forget the eye-opening field work in May and June and the endless post-practice compliments from Gruden; the rookie is at square one, needing to prove himself again.
"No matter how you perform, it's a different ball game when you put on the pads," said Clayton. "It's easy to go out and compete in shorts, shirt and helmet. Once you put on the pads, it's a different story. People change. There's new men out there. As for myself, I still have to go out there and earn a job, so nothing has changed. One hundred and 10 percent effort, trying to do whatever I can do to deserve a position on the field."
Those trials begin in one week.
"We can meet 20 hours a day, so you have to get ready for the grind," said Gruden with a chuckle. "Fortunately, the guy loves football and its not going to be hard for us to energize him and get him ready to play."