Clayton Happy to be Back

Posted Aug 31, 2011

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the rough and tumble world of the NFL, a promise can mean very little. Except in the case of Mark Clayton and the Rams.

On Wednesday afternoon, a promise – two of them, in fact – was kept. Clayton and the Rams struck a deal on a one-year contract to bring Clayton back to the Rams after an extended wait caused by a knee injury that had kept Clayton from the field for all of training camp.

“I’m just excited, glad to be back and know I will be there,” Clayton said. “I am anxious. I have been working and training to get right for this.”

Almost from the moment he arrived in St. Louis via trade with Baltimore on Sept. 6, 2010, Clayton felt a special connection to Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, the organization and the city as a whole.

That connection extended to quarterback Sam Bradford as the former Sooners hooked up for 10 completions and 119 yards even though Clayton had been with the team for less than a week.

Clayton made an instant impact and had 23 catches for 306 yards and two touchdowns before suffering a devastating torn patellar tendon against Detroit in the fifth game of the season. He’d played little more than a quarter of the season and his first year as a Ram was over already.

Scheduled for unrestricted free agency, Clayton made it clear he wanted to return to the Rams. Likewise, the Rams made it clear that they wanted him back, assuming that he could get his knee back to full strength. Those conversations took place before the lockout even began.

“We were keeping in touch,” Clayton said. “They said ‘We want you.’ They didn’t want to bring me in knowing they’d put me on Physically Unable to Perform but allow that position or roster spot for somebody that could practice and play in the preseason games. At that time, I wasn’t there yet.”

It didn’t help Clayton’s cause that the lockout prevented him from going to the Russell Training Center to work with the team’s doctors and athletic trainers.

So Clayton spent his summer working out on his own with a steady diet of running, agility drills and plyometrics in the morning followed by weight lifting in the afternoon and some football drills mixed in.

Clayton also missed the social part of the locker room dynamic.

“That’s been tough, more than anything,” Clayton said. “Being able to connect and develop relationships and friendships, you don’t have that. That’s been the hardest part of it.”

Still, it wasn’t enough to have Clayton ready for training camp and the Rams promised him they’d keep in touch and when they deemed him ready to come back to the team, they’d do what they could to re-sign him.

For his part, Clayton turned down some other opportunities and stayed true to his word.

When the Rams held true to theirs on Wednesday, it only provided validation of why Clayton wanted to stay a Ram in the first place.

“Yeah, that’s big time,” Clayton said. “That is big time to have someone say what they mean and come through on what they said and follow through on it. It speaks a lot about this organization and just the core of it and what it’s about. I really believe this is a championship organization and moving in that direction.”

Clayton says his knee is feeling much better than it has in a long time though he hasn’t had the chance to push it in a football setting yet.

For now, Clayton says his focus is on strengthening the smaller muscles around the knee so that he’ll be able to hold up to the rigors of football when the time comes.

“I am stronger than I have been,” Clayton said. “My speed is great. I think I’ll be faster than I was before. But now it’s working the little muscles in the background to get those right. That’s the big thing. That’s kind of what I have been focusing on.”

Clayton’s role with the Rams will be determined as the team gets a feel for how well he’s recovered and he gets a feel for the game again.

In addition to getting back up to speed physically, Clayton also has the job of getting caught up in an offensive scheme that has changed since he was last with the team. Clayton did not make the trip with the team to Jacksonville but should be back in the building when the team returns to work Friday.

All of that will work itself out in time but on Wednesday, Clayton was just happy to be a Ram again.

“That was what I wanted,” Clayton said. “I felt that even last year with them bringing me in and doing it with wide open arms and making sure I had whatever I needed to be comfortable. From then on, I said ‘Guys, I really don’t want to go anywhere else.’”