Clayton ready to block out the last four seasons

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- Michael Clayton has a theory on why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers handed him a five-year, $26 million contract just over a month ago.

It's not what you'd expect to hear from any wide receiver, a position where egos often are large and driven solely by receptions and touchdowns on the stat sheet. For four seasons, Clayton's numbers have been disappointing by any standard, but he smiles when he talks beyond the statistics.

He smiles when he talks about his blocking skills.

"I really think that's why I stayed here because they value the blocking so much," Clayton said.

The Bucs are paying a wide receiver more than some of their offensive linemen to block for their running backs? There's a bit more to it than that, but the basic answer is the Bucs view Clayton's blocking as a huge positive.

It seems every time new coach Raheem Morris talks these days, he uses the words "violent" and "physical." That's how he wants his team to play. It seems every time new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski speaks, he mentions how important it is to run the ball.

That's why Clayton has found a home -- and a big role -- only a few months after it looked like he'd be the first guy out of town after the Bucs lost their last four games to finish 9-7 and out of the playoffs.

Free agency and a fresh start seemed to be the only way for Clayton to revive a career that had sputtered after he caught 80 passes as a rookie in 2004. He'll be the first to tell you he deserves some of the blame. Clayton, 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds these days, admits he put on too much weight after his rookie year and that led to some injuries.

But even as he started taking better care of himself and staying healthy, Clayton never was fully able to emerge from coach Jon Gruden's doghouse. After catching seven touchdown passes as a rookie, he's had only two over the last four seasons and his reception totals in each season didn't even come to half of what he did as a rookie.

"I came in and caught 80 balls," Clayton said. "I felt ability-wise and confidence-wise, at that point, let's just build the team around the success that I had and bring in some fast guys to go down the field. They went totally opposite and kind of took me out."

Joey Galloway became the top target and Clayton disappeared.

"I loved and respected coach Gruden, but I fell into the nature of the business," Clayton said.

The nature of the business changed dramatically a couple of weeks after the season, when Gruden was fired and Morris was hired. Clayton was gearing up for free agency and even began going through the process, but he knew the coaching change opened a door that seemed to be closed.

Clayton has a strong relationship with Morris, the defensive backs coach last season. Morris was the guy who even recruited Clayton to play a little defense. Clayton lined up at cornerback for a couple of plays in a goal-line situation in a game against Kansas City last season.

"[Morris] had that trust in me to go out there and be an athlete. He knows what type of person I am," Clayton said. "He also knows what type of receiver I am, what I bring to the table and how to utilize my talents."

Yes, as important as his blocking ability may be, Clayton wants a chance to do more than that. He wants to be a starter. He wants to be an every-down receiver and get more than 30-some catches a year.

Galloway is gone now. Antonio Bryant is the only sure thing the Bucs have at receiver, but Clayton wants to give them more than that.

"Basically, I think there are going to be opportunities in the short passing game and they're going to utilize receivers who can help move the chains in traffic," Clayton said. "I think they'll put me in position where I can help the team. Everybody's going to get an opportunity to catch a lot of balls. It hasn't always been like that in the past."

No, it hasn't. Clayton, at times, was reduced to being nothing more than a special-teams player. But he's endured that and has managed to stay with a team he was fully prepared to leave.

Clayton's starting over. Four years later, he believes the time -- and the chance -- has come for him to finally build on that brilliant rookie season.

"At the end of the day, I'm not the fastest guy," Clayton
said. "But you talk about longevity and I pride myself on perfecting my craft. I feel like I'm a complete player and that's what keeps wide receivers around for a long time. I feel like, in this offense, I'm going to get a chance to show what I can really do."