Clemens steps back for the throw
*Today we continue a look back at the Jets' numerical roster and each respective player's individual 2006 season. This regular feature is scheduled to run throughout each week in the offseason.
*In the past year, the New York Jets have searched and added players with great intangibles. The Jets wanted to add depth and competition to their quarterback position last April, so they selected Oregon product Kellen Clemens in the second round of the NFL Draft.
"He's got that type of personality that's described as infectious," said head coach Eric Mangini of Clemens following the '06 draft. "His players rally around him. So I'm excited about the depth and competition he adds and the person that we've added to the team."
Clemens, who grew up a cattle rancher in Burns, Oregon, confirmed his leadership ability early on in Hempstead. During rookie camp, the 6-2, 223-pound passer took charge of the offense and turned some heads in the process.
"What I liked out of Kellen this weekend is his presence and his ability to run the operation - that's been really positive," Mangini said following a rookie workout last May. "Someone was misaligned and he said, 'Over here, you need to be set here.' That presence, that understanding of what we're trying to get done and seeing the big picture was good to see. And it's what I expect to see moving forward."
As the Ducks' starting signal caller for three seasons in the Pac 10 Conference, Clemens improved with time. His numbers jumped from 18 touchdowns as a sophomore to 22 touchdowns as a junior. Then eight games into his senior year, Clemens broke his ankle, ending what would have been his best statistical season. Up until that game, Clemens had thrown 19 touchdown passes against four interceptions while completing 64% of his pass attempts. Over the course of his collegiate career, Clemens completed 61% of his passes and threw for 7,555 yards. Even more impressive was his touchdown to interception ratio of 61 to 24.
Clemens, the 49th overall selection in '06, was a participant in the highly publicized Jets' four-way training camp battle at quarterback, but Chad Pennington clearly distinguished himself from the competition. Pennington, who started 16 games in a season for the first time in his seven-year career, would go on to win Comeback Player of the Year honors while leading the Jets to a postseason berth. However, with the coaching staff viewing each week in the regular season as its own entity, a quarterback competition remained all season long between Clemens and veteran Patrick Ramsey for the backup role.
As the season progressed, Clemens provided good looks on the "show team" at practice and he impressed the coaching staff. He would eventually earn the backup role for the Jets' December battle with Buffalo at the Meadowlands and relieved Pennington in the fourth quarter of a 31-13 defeat. It was Clemens' second and final appearance of the regular season after receiving some mop-up duty in a September loss at Jacksonville.
"This was the first week that he was the No. 2," said Mangini of Clemens in December. "He has had some really good weeks; he had earned that opportunity. I thought Kellen had really strung together some good weeks and earned being bumped up to two. Whoever plays better will be the No. 2."
In the preseason, Clemens saw considerable action against the Buccaneers down in Tampa and completed 10 of 14 pass attempts for 92 yards. The rookie even orchestrated the club's only scoring drive of the evening, culminating with a 20-yard Mike Nugent field goal. Four weeks later, Clemens started for the Green and White when they hosted the Eagles in the preseason finale. In just one half of action, Clemens connected on seven of 10 pass attempts for 75 yards.
After a full season under his belt, it will be interesting to see how much Clemens has developed when the Jets take the field for their 2007 training camp. The transition from college to the pros is especially difficult for quarterbacks because of the complex systems on both sides of the ball. It was a good sign that Mangini liked Clemens' practice habits down the stretch, and the rookie surely learned a lot from just watching the consummate veteran in Pennington.
"This is an opportunity for me," Clemens said in the preseason. "Chad Pennington is a guy who has proved that he understands the game at that level and can win at that level. There is a good veteran guy that I can learn behind for a couple of years and then hopefully get the chance to play, so this is a chance to bust tale and try to get ready to play and compete."