Linebacker Keenan Clayton said he was on the field for about 15-20 snaps for last Sunday's win against the Giants.
He expects an even bigger role this Sunday when the Patriots come to town with their dynamic slot receiver Wes Welker and outstanding tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. And Clayton is ready for it.
"I feel like this is the type of team I match up with," Clayton said after practice on Friday. "Me, being a smaller guy, always figured that I'd be a guy that would help more in coverage and help cover tight ends. This is an opportunity for me to show what I can do."
Clayton's duties expanded last week from special teams to the nickel defense where he split reps with Brian Rolle alongside Jamar Chaney. The 6-1, 229-pound Clayton was a fourth-round pick in 2010 who played in seven games last season. He chipped in a career-high eight tackles in the regular season finale against Dallas.
This season, Clayton has waited patiently for his opportunity on defense. Even though two rookies - Rolle and Casey Matthews - have been in the starting lineup this season, Clayton is looking forward to using this Sunday to state his case that he should remain an integral part of the defense.
"Everybody has to prove themselves. Everybody has to do their job," Clayton said. "I don't feel like I have to prove myself more. I just feel like I have to work a little harder because I'm smaller. I'm not as bulky. I'm not as heavy. I haven't played the 'backer as long. I'm not going to use that as an excuse at all."
Lining up against the likes of Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks last week reminded Clayton of playing against spread offenses at Oklahoma. This Sunday, however, it's going to be a variety of matchups from the 6-6, 265-pound Gronkowski to the 5-9, 185-pound Welker.
"Our whole mindset is to keep them from making plays," Clayton said.
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