Clemens steps back for the throw
This article on Kellen Clemens, along with a companion piece on Chad Pennington, is the eighth and last in a series of stories reviewing the Jets' 2007 season and previewing 2008, position by position.
There is nothing a young NFL quarterback can do to simulate game experience. You can practice for years but if you're holding the clipboard on Sundays, you're a spectator when the combatants enter the ring.
Kellen Clemens got into his first fight in 2007.
"The major positive was the experience that came from it, going against some top-ranked defenses and seeing everything they had to throw at a younger quarterback," Clemens told newyorkjets.com this week. "In a lot of areas, we took what they had to give, took their best punch and came back swinging."
Clemens, who started eight games last season, took over as the team's signalcaller midway through a disappointing 4-12 campaign. He did start a Week 2 contest at Baltimore (performing well and almost leading the Green & White all the way back from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit), but he got that nod because Chad Pennington had injured his ankle in the opener vs. New England.
"The things to improve upon became more and more evident as the year progressed and I played more," Clemens said. 'Teams were able to say, 'These are the areas where he struggles, let's maybe exploit those areas.' There was some decision-making, forcing the ball here or there. The interception-to-touchdown ratio, 5-to-10, is nothing that you ever, ever want, and the completion percentage was lower than you want — I think it was 52 — and the sack number was high."
Clemens was sacked 27 times in his 10 appearances. The Jets offensive line did not have a banner season, but Clemens said they were not to blame for all of the protection breakdowns.
"There were a lot of times guys were picked up and I didn't find that soft spot in the pocket. I got knocked down because it was my fault — not because it was theirs," he said. "They get blamed for it but it was my fault."
An Area of Strength to Build On
However, the 24-year-old Clemens displayed moxie in '07, saving some of his brightest moments for the most pressurized situations. He was extremely effective leading the two-minute offense, rallying the troops when the clock appeared to be an enemy.
"I don't know if it's the sense of urgency that increases not only for me but the entire offensive unit," he said. "It was an area of strength for us that we're going to be able to build upon going forward."
It is time to move ahead for Jets Nation as 2008 has begun with OTAs. Eric Mangini — for the second time in three seasons as head coach — has not named a starter for the fall, and the competition will be a two-way battle between Clemens and Pennington.
"You have to be respectful of Chad and the things he's accomplished because he's a great quarterback," Clemens said. "But you also have to let everyone else know that I'm here to fight and I'm not just going, 'He's the veteran and I'm just going to roll over and die.' "
The ante has been upped. Clemens (6'2", 223) is roughly the same size as Pennington (6'3", 225), but his 12 regular-season career games played are dwarfed by Penny's 69 appearances. Clemens is more athletic and owns the stronger arm, but Pennington, who completed 68.8 of his passes last season, is the most accurate passer in NFL history.
"Hitting the target eight out of 10 isn't good enough anymore," Clemens said. "It's got to be 10 out of 10 and it has to be every time, so that's been another point of emphasis over the course of the off-season."
"There was a big throw against Dallas that comes to mind where I missed Jerricho [Cotchery]. I mean he's wide open and I just missed. Those are the throws you want back. The idea is to limit the number of those as much as you can."
Even though he has no trouble tracing back to a specific incompletion on Thanksgiving Day, Clemens isn't going to beat himself up this spring or summer. After two years in the league, which included a four-way QB competition just months into his NFL career, the Oregon product is becoming a more mature professional player.
"We had an OTA practice today that wasn't perfect but wasn't bad," he explained. "It was a good starting spot. I had my fair share of mistakes — nothing was perfect. But I understand that this competition is not based on one day."
Timetable for a Marathon
Clemens expects a long battle that could last until late August. The Mangini mantra remains playing the man who gives his club the best chance to win, so there is no reason to hurry with such an important decision.
"This thing is probably going to go until the last week of preseason, judging by the way things have gone in the past. This thing is going to go for a while. It's a marathon, not a sprint," Clemens said. "Take the things that happened early on here, watch the film, work out in the weightroom, do your extra throwing and what not after practice and improve because you are going to be judged on your body of work as a whole."
Don't expect acrimony in this campaign. There will be no back-page headlines for the tabloids because New York City's AFC representative has a pair of quarterbacks whose competitiveness is equaled by their character.
"I'm very fortunate that the guy I'm competing with has all the experience that Chad has and — not to beat a dead horse because I said this over and over — is as good a guy as there is. We can still joke back and forth, we still can bounce a question off one another, and ultimately that makes both of us better, which in turn makes the team better," Clemens said. "Neither one of us wants to lose this thing, but it makes it a better situation for both of us and in turn the team."
They'll both have to learn new reads and new protections, but there is continuity in the system with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer at the helm for a third consecutive season. Clemens says he's "tons" more comfortable now and he attributes that to playing with "live bullets."
"I've been in there and I've had some success," he said. "Your confidence builds a little bit, so you feel that much more comfortable."