For the third time in less than six months, Thomas Claytonis a Patriot.
Originally brought in as a free agent from San Francisco during the spring, the 5-11, 222-pound running back was released during training camp, but re-signed a few days later. He made it all the way to final cuts, but couldn't quite make the 53-man roster.
Ten days later, the Cleveland Browns added Clayton to their practice squad, where he's been until this week, when New England signed him again. It's been that kind of career for Clayton, a 49ers draftee out of Kansas State back in 2007. He bounced back and forth between the San Francisco practice squad and active roster for a few years, while dealing with various injuries along the way, including this summer during Patriots camp.
"You always feel like what you do is going to be good enough, and I particularly thought what I did [this summer] was good enough," Clayton said Friday. "Unfortunately, at the time, it wasn't the case, but it was good enough to get picked up [by Cleveland] and I was able to continue my skills, continue to work. So, being brought back here at this time, I feel confident that if I am put in the game to play, I'll be ready."
Attrition at the running back position, however, is one reason why Clayton is back in Foxborough these days. The trade of Laurence Maroneyto Denver, coupled with Kevin Faulk'sseason-ending knee injury and Fred Taylor'snagging toe, have depleted the depth on New England's running back roster. Clayton, with his previous experience here, seemed like the perfect stop-gap measure, according to Bill Belichick.
"When he was out there [in camp], he did some good things, but he came in late in the spring and fell a little bit behind with a little bit of missed time in practice, so I think that slowed him down a little bit," the head coach told reporters Friday.
"But we were impressed with his skills and thought in the preseason games when he had an opportunity to play, he showed up and did some good things. He was just kind of behind where everybody else was. But we, at this point, looked at our options and felt like he was a guy that we wanted to continue to work with. He was on another practice squad, so we had to put him on the roster in order to do that."
Despite having to focus on his new job with the Browns, Clayton claimed he still followed the goings-on with his former – and now current – teammates at Gillette.
"Yeah, yeah, I did. But, again, it was still unexpected, in terms of how quick the turnaround was," he added. "I was excited and I'm happy to be a Patriot."
Clayton must now re-learn the Patriots offense in a hurry if he is to help the Patriots Monday night versus the Dolphins.
"I mean, that's the National Football League," Clayton mused, "so, you have to prove yourself every day, regardless of what team it's for. Fortunately, it's for a team I'm familiar with [in New England], so I think it'll be easier for me to get acclimated to those things.
"I know that I was brought here for a reason," he continued, "but as of right now, nothing's been declared. I'm going to prepare for whatever they throw at me. I just hope I can be included … and help this team win ballgames."
How long Clayton remains in his third go-round with the Patriots may depend, in part, on the long-term prognosis for the 34-year-old Taylor. When asked about his veteran back's health status, Belichick offered few details.
"Well, we'll see. We'll just kind of take it day-to-day. I think he's doing better. We'll see how quickly it turns around."
Don't forget about the Wildcat ….
It's become almost obligatory during Patriots-Dolphins weeks to discuss Miami's popular Wildcat offense. But we've nearly gone this one without even mentioning it. Fortunately, LB Rob Ninkovichsaved us, when he answered a question on how to defend against the unpredictable offensive system.
"You've just got to go out there and know your assignment, everybody play hard, run to the ball … that's basically what you do on that. Everyone has to be on the same page," he replied.
What makes the Wildcat successful, particularly in Miami, is the threat of a run and a pass on every play, even with no quarterback taking the snap. The key is having two capable running backs, which the Dolphins do in Ronnie Brownand Ricky Williams.
"Ricky Williams is an unbelievable player. He's fast, he's got power," Ninkovich noted. "Ronnie's just kind of the same way. He'll go anywhere on the field. You have to know that you're going against two great backs and you have to know your responsibilities, where you're supposed to be on that specific play."
Fri 10/1 Practice Notebook
For news and notes from Friday's practice, please visit the PFW Blog.