Clemens steps back for the throw
Kellen Clemens' rookie season with the Jets featured late-night meals and even later cram sessions. The Oregon product, who graduated with a degree in business administration, got inundated with a voluminous NFL playbook and taxing terminology. The pressure of mastering new information resulted in a loss of sleep.
"I would go home and grab a late dinner with my wife if I could, and then get back into the playbook," Clemens said. "As a rookie, I didn't learn until late in the season that at some point you have to shut your mind off on football so you can actually go to sleep, because I wasn't sleeping very good for a while either."
Uneasiness led to difficult nights for both Kellen and his wife, Nicole. He literally talked football in his sleep.
"I would wake up screaming out cadences and making audibles at the line. I don't think my wife was sleeping, obviously, because I was waking her up," he said. "Finally, in the later part of the season, I learned I have to get my rest or I'm done, I'm not going to make it."
Taking only a few snaps behind center didn't prevent Clemens from smashing into the proverbial rookie wall. From the moment he stepped inside Weeb Ewbank Hall until the conclusion of his first professional campaign, Clemens' mind was in overdrive.
"It's all mental, especially for our position," he told newyorkjets.com recently. "I know it physically took a toll on some of the other rookies. With the exception of my shoulder, because I wasn't used to throwing that much in a season, either, it really wasn't physically horrible. But the mental preparation we have to do as quarterbacks, the hours we spend, being up here early, all the meetings, practice … you never quit thinking."
Clemens turned to Chad Pennington for advice. This was not a frequent occurrence because the rookie didn't want to bog down the cerebral veteran with another responsibility. But the affable Clemens sought out the amicable Pennington during the season and talked about his ongoing problem with information overload.
"I told him that I was doing all this studying and still not retaining the information as well as I think I should have," Clemens said. "He said, 'Well, you probably aren't getting your sleep. You can spend less time if you are rested and retain a lot better.' I tried it and it worked, so it's just part of the learning process."
What was also part of the learning the curve was watching Pennington man the offensive controls. Pennington, named Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year following the season, led the Jets to 10 wins and a return to the playoffs.
"His mental preparation blows me away. He just absolutely … he is so smart, football-smart," Clemens said. "He makes great decisions on the field. The little things that you wouldn't pick up on if you weren't there and didn't really understand what he was doing have large impacts on the game. That is the biggest thing, just watching him prepare and figuring out how he prepares.
"And Chad was great as far as sharing things with me. I tried not to bother him, but I know I was still that rookie who was tagging along. But he was awesome as far as helping me learn because of all the things he had to deal with."
Appearing refreshed from an off-season vacation to the West Coast, Clemens valued the recent time he and Nicole shared with their families.
"We didn't get to see a lot of our families, being clearly on the other side of the country. I have a new niece and had a chance to spend some time with her," he said. "It was short, but it was also kind of long at the same time, two months after being here and going as hard and as fast as we were going during the season. To have it all just kind of come to a screeching halt — the suddenness was kind of a shock."
The 23-year-old Clemens may have startled some people in his native town of Burns, Ore. Accustomed to the fast-paced New York style, Clemens brought a heavy foot back to the Pacific Northwest.
"I was blowing people off the line when I got back. We were kind of laughing at ourselves at first," he said. "We were like, 'We need to adjust and get back to a little bit slower pace.' It was definitely different, especially going back to my hometown — there are 4,000 people there — getting back into everybody knowing everybody."
Raised on his family's 3,500-acre family ranch, Clemens is a true cowboy. But his contract stipulates that he can't ride horses, so he now moves by foot. No more four-wheeling with the boys or riding snowmobiles in the open fields.
"We built fence a little bit. We did some brush-piling cleaning up one of the fields," he said of his limited ranch participation. "I helped Mom clean out the garage — not really crazy stuff, just simple little chores and projects around the house."
But Clemens is happy to be back in New York and with his teammates once again as the Jets set out on this off-season's strength and conditioning program this week. A year removed from the uncertainty surrounding the draft, Clemens says he has found a comfort zone.
"It is my first time in three years going into a season with an offense in place where I know what to expect. My wife and I are here, and we are moved in and know the area. I know what the coaches expect," he said. "I have a better grasp of my weaknesses and things I need to improve on. There is a plan being put into place to fix them. It is awesome. I am so much more comfortable. I guess there is not the unknown that was there at this point last year."
The goal now is mastery of Brian Schottenheimer's offense. Clemens wants to get to a point where things are second nature and his instincts can take over.
"That is really the main thing because as soon as you quit thinking, then you just react and are so much better at the quarterback position," he said. "Then you can think about what they are doing on the other side of the ball — it is a whole other deal."
Clemens, a second-round pick in last April's draft who wore No. 6 in '06, grabbed his old college number 11 when Patrick Ramsey was released. He laughed loudly when asked if he was going to mentor newcomer Marques Tuiasosopo, a veteran of six NFL seasons in Oakland.
"I don't know about that. Marques has been in the league," Clemens said. "He is going to come in here to a new system. If there is anything I can help him out with, I will. I know Marques a little bit from different camps and things, and he is a great guy. I am sure we won't have any problem working together."
In mop-up duty last season, Clemens finished two games when the outcomes were already determined. The live action was beneficial for this promising quarterback who figures to sleep much sounder in his second season.
"It's doable and that helped to understand what it's like to be in there," he said of his brief time calling signals. "Obviously I haven't been there in crunch time just yet, but it's nothing that's too big of a hill to climb."