Michael Clayton said Thursday that this isn't his last opportunity to prove himself in Tampa Bay. It's just his greatest opportunity.
Clayton has caught his share of flak the past few years since his awesome rookie campaign. He failed to rehab injuries properly. Then he couldn't stay healthy. Along the way he couldn't re-capture that feeling from that off-the-charts rookie season.
The Bucs did everything they could to give his job away this training camp. Tried to hand it to Maurice Stovall and he disappeared after a week of training camp. Tried to give it to David Boston and, well, you know what happened. Now Ike Hilliard, a crafty 11-year vet, has his job. But how long does he hang on to it?
Clayton is still here, people. Still plugging away. Still out to prove he's the same receiver he was in 2004, even though that year, to him, is now ancient history.
"I'm trying to live on the future," Clayton said. ‘I know what I can do in this league, not just because of what I did in '04, but what I've done the last three years."
Remember when he was the future, all of three years ago when he shattered every Buccaneers rookie receiving record possible? He was supposed to be "The Guy," the one that would eventually replace Joey Galloway.
Now, it's — what — three guys later? And Clayton is still around. And he's remained positive through this whole process of winning and losing his job.
"That's me," Clayton said. "If it was difficult to keep a positive attitude, then it isn't genuine."
I'll say this — Clayton has never ducked when the cameras and tape recorders swarmed around him. Not his rookie season, not at his lowest points in 2005 and 2006 when he season ended in injury, and not now.
But he would love the questions to be about his play and not about his past. He would love to set that aside.
He thinks this is his best chance. He's surrounded by a talented group of receivers. More importantly, there's Jeff Garcia, the 37-year old quarterback who doesn't play favorites.
"He has the best vision of any quarterback that I've seen in this league," Clayton said. "I have no doubt he can get the ball to the receivers. It's jus a matter of us making plays when he does."
Clayton makes a great point. Wide receiver is the only position in football dependent on someone else. The Buccaneers' quarterback morass has held back every receiver on the team except Galloway.
Head coach Jon Gruden believes Clayton is back on track this season. Now that Boston is gone, the path is clear for Clayton to get more playing time. When you tell him that Garcia hasn't seen Clayton at his best, Clayton says that Garcia knows what he can do.
Coming out of a game where he had just one catch, the timing may be perfect for Clayton to put the past to rest.
"It's a great opportunity for me," Clayton said. "It's a great opportunity for me to take back and give back to this team what I've been wanting to give back the last two years."
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.