TAMPA, Fla. -- Michael Clayton heard it from friends and family alike. In fact, it seemed like everybody he encountered late last year, blood relatives or not, wanted to know the answer to a simple, puzzling question.
|Michael Clayton hopes he can play all four months of the NFL season. (Getty Images)|
Clayton burst onto the NFL scene as a rookie first-round pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2004, catching 80 passes to lead all first-year receivers. He had star written all over him. He was big, tough and physical. And he played much faster than his questionable 40 time coming out of LSU.
It looked like it came easily to him.
That's what made his 2005 season so puzzling. We've heard all about sophomore slumps. What he had was more like a sophomore disappearance, as if he were a prop for some fly-by-night magician.
Now you see him. Now you don't.
Clayton finished fifth on the team in catches with 32, starting just 10 games because of injuries.
"It was mentally one of the hardest things I've had to deal with," Clayton said Tuesday during a break from the Bucs' three-day minicamp. "I speak to a lot of kids about not quitting. For the first time in my life, something I love was being taken away from me or I wasn't on top of my game catching passes. But I had to practice what I preach to the kids."
So, despite a long list of injuries, including a bad knee, a bum shoulder and turf toe, he tried to play on, all the while hearing the whispers about his drop in production.
Was he a one-year wonder?
"People don't realize everything he went through last year," Bucs quarterback Chris Simms said. "I have a lot of respect for him. He was banged up and never complained. He had a shoulder and other injuries, and he just kept plugging away. He's a guy you want on your side."
Clayton's troubles actually started during his rookie season. He had knee troubles that bothered him but never missed a game. That eventually caught up with him. He had surgery after the season to scope his left knee to fix defects underneath his knee cap.
That surgery should have been a three-month rehab. But Clayton didn't know how to handle the process. He admittedly wasn't as devoted as he could have been. When he reported to training camp last summer, it showed. Out of shape meant into Jon Gruden's doghouse.