At his final news conference of the season, head coach Eric Mangini was asked about Kellen Clemens' body of work as the Jets' starting QB.
"There are definitely some plays you wish you could have back and he wishes he could have back, and you'd like him to go through the read progression a little bit differently," Mangini said. "Some of that's going to come with experience."
But the second-year head coach also talked about Clemens' late-game poise against the Ravens, the Redskins, the Steelers and most recently the Chiefs.
"That's about as difficult a situation as you can be in, where the game is on the line and you have to move the ball at that point," he said.
If you went by only statistics (and some critics do), Clemens didn't post impressive numbers this season. He completed 52 percent of his passes and compiled a 60.9 passer rating, placing him 33rd in the NFL in both categories. In eight starts and seven full games of action, he threw five touchdown passes and was intercepted 10 times.
"There was progress that was made and there's still room for improvement," Clemens said.
But the Jets basically went a respectable 3-4 with Clemens calling the signals. He was in for only two snaps against New England albeit his final play — a Eugene Wilson 5-yard interception-return TD — didn't help the cause.
You also remember some critical dropped passes in those aforementioned close games against the Ravens in the fourth quarter (Justin McCareins on a post that would have forced a tie) and the Redskins in OT (Jerricho Cotchery on a quick out on third down that would have put the Green & White in field goal range). So Clemens was not far off from being 5-2 in the games he started and played for the duration.
"The evaluation is going to come from going back and looking at tape," Clemens said. "There were some wins, which was good, but there were also some losses that obviously we could have done different. I'll go back and look at it to see the areas where I can get better and we can all get better. Then we'll get to work on improving."
Clemens benefited greatly from improved defensive performances. While the Jets had difficulty scoring points, the defense kept the team in every game except for the Thanksgiving contest in Dallas. Even during that 34-3 loss, the D played well before wearing down late. If you removed the Jets' 40-point explosion against the 1-15 Dolphins, the offense averaged less than 13 points a game (12.6) in the second half.
"Fortunately, this year I had had an opportunity to play a little bit," Clemens said. "When I was in there, we weren't always as successful as we would have hoped to be."
But in fairness to Clemens, the line experienced its share of pass protection struggles throughout the season and the team's top two wideouts had only a couple of snaps together with the young passer. The Jets were hit with the injury bug as both Laveranues Coles (head/ankle) and Cotchery (right index finger) missed time.
After Clemens was named the full-time starter, the second-year passer was sacked 22 times in six full games of action. There were blocking breakdowns while he was learning to become more comfortable in the pocket.
"With time and experience understanding the difference between the pocket truly collapsing or just the need to step up or slide, those things improve," Mangini said. "I've seen that with other quarterbacks where initially the reaction is to go and to try to make something happen with your feet."
A mobile quarterback, Clemens actually rushed for 111 yards last season. He averaged 4.1 yards each time he tucked the ball and crossed the line of scrimmage. Interestingly, the quick-footed 6'2", 223-pounder openly pointed to his diet as an area where he could improve.
"Your nutrition, I learned the hard way, can greatly affect your performance," he said. "If you're not eating the right way at the right times and the right foods, you have to try to manage your diet so you have a good amount of energy to sustain you."
Not surprisingly, Mangini opted not to name Clemens his starter heading into 2008. After a 4-12 season, the Jets have many questions and important discussions ahead. Chad Pennington is still under contract and the Green & White could elect to add another arm in free agency of the draft.
"I have to look at what Kellen does throughout the course of the off-season and really see where we are each step of the way," Mangini said. "You've got the draft, you've got free agency, and you've got a lot of different things that come into play."
It was important for the franchise to get a look at Clemens in the season's second half. Even though his results were mixed, Clemens is just 24 years old and he should be better for the experience.
"Kellen is going to be a good player. This year he's shown what he's capable of doing," Cotchery said. "I expect him to get better just like everyone in this locker room. He has a good future ahead of him."