EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Michael Clayton may not need a lot of time to get on the same page with New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
While they have never played on the same team, Clayton and Manning were roommates for three months at a camp in Florida prior to the NFL Combine in 2004.
“I was his receiver down there,” Clayton recalled, saying he used to wake Manning up in the morning and drive him to their workouts.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Clayton added. “To have an opportunity to be able to catch ball from him on this level is a dream I have been waiting for, to get a qualified quarterback and to get an opportunity. Last year, everyone caught balls here, no matter who you are, and that’s what I am looking for.”
The Giants (6-4) are in desperate need of anyone to step up at receiver this week against Jacksonville (6-4). A rash of injuries the past two weeks has sidelined Steve Smith, Ramses Barden and leading receiver Hakeem Nicks.
Nicks was hurt against Philadelphia in Sunday night’s 27-17 loss to the Eagles. He is expected to miss at least three games, leaving Mario Manningham and Derek Hagan as the only experienced receivers on the roster.
Clayton, the 15th pick overall in the 2004 draft, was signed on Tuesday, and Devin Thomas was awarded on waivers from Carolina on Wednesday.
Of the two, Clayton probably has a better chance of making a contribution against the Jaguars. He practiced with the team Wednesday and has been immersed in the playbook, trying to learn the Giants’ terminology after six seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was coached for a time by Jon Gruden.
“Once you have learned coach Gruden’s play book, and once you go through that book, you can go through anything in the world,” Clayton quipped.
Clayton has had an interesting season. He was released by the Bucs before the start of the season, had tryouts with Chicago and Cincinnati in October and was playing with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League the past month.
The former LSU product said he had to swallow his pride to go to the UFL, but the practice and hard work helped him get ready to get back into the NFL, where he caught 221 passes in his six years with Tampa Bay.
“At this level, you never know what is going to happen,” Clayton said. “All you can do is give your very best effort and that’s one of the things I have always done.”
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Clayton has been given the game plan.
“He doesn’t have to get the volume,” Coughlin said. “He’s got to learn what’s going to happen this week.”
Manning said it was good to work with Clayton again.
“I know he’s excited about being here and seeing how he can help us out,” Manning said. “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.”
Clayton said he is willing to do what’s needed to help the team.
“Catch balls. Special teams. Anything that it takes to win,” he said. “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.”
Clayton had his best NFL season after working with Manning. He had 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie.
Watching the videotapes, Clayton already appreciates New York’s offensive line. It gives Manning and his receivers time to do their thing.
“There is a lot of detail in the route running here, where in (my) past there has not been enough time to put those details on your routes,” Clayton said. “I think that’s why these guys are so successful with what they do. It’s a credit to them and what they have accomplished. I hope to fit in.”