WR Michael Clayton wishes he had worked more on his route-running in high school before going to LSU
(by Jeremy White, NFLHS.com)
If only everyone shared Michael Clayton's attitude and team-first spirit, the lives of coaches would be much less stressful.
Despite being one of the nation's top collegiate receivers the past couple of years at LSU, Clayton never let the hype go to his head. It's no wonder he was able to help lead the Tigers to a co-national championship last season. In an age of prima donnas, Clayton is a rarity: his work ethic and dedication equals, if not exceeds, his much publicized talent.
"I want to do whatever it takes to win," said Clayton, whose dedication was rewarded when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him with the 15th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. "Whether that's running or blocking or catching passes, I just accept my role."
That's good to know, because Clayton's role in the NFL has not yet been fully determined. Will he be a big-play receiver? A kick returner? Will he play primarily on special teams? These are all questions the NFL rookie asks himself. Whatever his coaches decide as the season progresses, though, he'll accept.
High school players would be wise to adopt that attitude as well, Clayton says.
"Do whatever it takes," he counseled. "I know a lot of young guys go into college and want to play receiver, but your mentality should be – and it's something that has worked for me – to do whatever it takes just to get on the field. Once you're on the field in special teams and you make your name there, then opportunities present themselves. That's exactly what it did for me."
It's important for a receiver to be well-rounded, adds Clayton. Too many young guys get caught up in deep routes and trying to make the spectacular play. In doing that, they shortchange their team – and themselves – by neglecting another important aspect of the position: blocking. Conventional football wisdom, after all, holds that no running back rips off a long gain unless there's a receiver blocking well downfield.
"I've worked extra hard on blocking since that's one thing a receiver can do to separate himself from the others," explained Clayton. "A lot of guys don't do that. That's been one thing that has motivated me. I try to dominate defensive backs every play, because you're not only playing for that game – you're also playing for the next game. And your opponent that next game is watching the film."
Even young receivers realize the importance of speed, but Clayton says too many of them waste their speed by not learning to keep it under control and run proper routes. He admits he was guilty of that in high school, and that the habits were hard to break once he arrived at LSU.
"My biggest transformation was being under control," said Clayton. "A lot of guys think it's a whole lot faster at the next level, which it is, but sometimes I misinterpreted that as me not being fast enough. I was already fast enough, but a lot of times in my routes I was out of control. I needed to be more under control. It would really help for young guys to learn how to run control routes first, and then let the speed come with control and let it develop that way."
Clayton recommends cone drills for youngsters. Not only are they effective at promoting speed, control and conditioning, but they also can be done without the supervision of a coach or the help of a teammate.
Of course, the main function of any wide receiver is to catch the ball when it comes his way. Varsity players looking to improve their hands, Clayton suggests, simply need repetition.
"Just go out and catch," he advises. "Run routes and have someone throw to you. And work on awkward balls. Have someone stand out there and throw at your back shoulder and stuff like that. Not every ball in a game is thrown right to you."
(Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc.)