Clayton Has Much To Be Thankful For

Michael Clayton gets another shot with another NFL team after spending the past season with the UFL's Omaha Nighthawks. But can he make an impact Sunday against Jacksonville?

Michael Clayton has much to be thankful for today, Thanksgiving Day, not the least of which is his second and perhaps final shot in the NFL.

The question is, will Giants coach Tom Coughlin be thankful come Sunday, when Clayton and the depleted receiver corps try to complete passes against the Jacksonville defense?

Clayton, the Bucs' former No. 1 pick of 2004, was signed Tuesday after the UFL's Omaha Nighthawks picked him up following his September 4 release from Tampa Bay. He caught 221 passes in his six seasons as a Buc, but never got close to his rookie production of 80.

But Coughlin had no hesitation about signing him after Hakeem Nicks underwent a procedure to relieve the effects of Compartment Syndrome in his right leg. Though Coughlin was sticking to the original three-week timetable doctors laid out for Nicks' return, the receiver depth was still seriously low, what with Ramses Barden on IR and Steve Smith still with at least two games to go with a partially-torn pectoral muscle.

But how much can a guy who came from West Coast-style offenses in Tampa Bay and Omaha help a team that now would rather run than pass, and on short notice, to boot?

"Catch balls. Special teams. Everything, anything that it takes to win," said Clayton, who can also block in the run game. "Obviously, there are a lot of guys banged up here, and guys are going to be expected to do more. Guys like myself can come in and relieve other guys in their roles definitely on special teams, and the offense is pretty set in what they do and I'm focused on learning the formations and the plays right now.

"I did a lot of work yesterday to get the face of everything down and feel real comfortable about whatever position that they put me in. I know that they're going to put me in a position where they know that I can handle it. So I don't know for sure at this point, but we'll see on Sunday."

Clayton doesn't come in as a total stranger. He and Eli Manning worked out together in Sarasota, Fla. before the 2004 Scouting Combine.

"I've known Michael for a long time," Manning said. "We worked out before the combine seven years ago – we were down in Florida for about three months and he was my roommate and he was a guy I was throwing to a bunch then, so it's good to reconnect and I know he's excited about being here and seeing how he can help us out. He's obviously a veteran guy who has played in a lot of football games and he should be able to pick it up quickly and get some playing time."

Derek Hagan, signed last week to replace Smith, will make his first start -- second in his career -- since 2007 in Miami as the No. 2 receiver. Clayton will go into the slot as an experienced option over the untested Duke Calhoun.

The 6-4, 215-pound receiver won't know the whole playbook, and he's struggling to learn Coughlin's technical language right now. But Coughlin said he'll know enough to operate.

"He'll get the game plan," Coughlin said. "He doesn't have to get the volume. He's got to learn what's going to happen this week."

Chances are, Manning won't be looking at Clayton a lot, though he could see some throws over the middle, where he was most dangerous as a Buc. Tight ends Kevin Boss and Travis Beckum could well get increased roles in the passing game. But a similar thought ran though last week, and Boss and Beckum combined for just three passes for 24 yards. Beckum scored a touchdown on the only ball thrown to him, and Boss had just four thrown in his direction all day.

Boss won't lobby for more work, however.

"I'm looking forward to getting a few more balls thrown my way," Boss said. "I mean, I'm not going to go to Eli and demand the ball, if that's what you're trying to get at."

Whatever happens, Clayton will just count his blessings that he's part of an NFL team again. His release jolted him. A trip to the UFL proved sobering, but beneficial in that the younger roster and more intense, teaching practices kept him active.

"I worked my (butt) off," he said.

But there was a mental adjustment he had to make.

"I did have to swallow my pride a little bit," Clayton said. "I had to revert to how I was raised, where I come from, and keeping the faith. My mom gave me a Scripture that said, 'It may not look good, but a door's going to open for you.'

"As soon as I read that, I called my agent and said, "Hey, I want to go down to Omaha. It was a situation where I took it as an chance to prepare for an opportunity to play in the NFL again. Fortunately, I got the opportunity and I'm ready to step in."

How much can he contribute on Sunday? Maybe a catch here, a downfield block there.

"They're going to give me what I can handle," Clayton said. "I'm in there every day, three hours just writing down terms, just getting my mind working to these new terms to be on the same page as these guys. Just show them I'm comfortable out there. There's opportunities all over the field."

He's just grateful to be back in the NFL. Coughlin can only hope the receiver makes him grateful for his presence on Sunday.

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