Jets rookie QB Kellen Clemens has big ambitions for his NFL career. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Even he is willing to admit that it is a little bit overwhelming, but through hard work and patience a small-town kid from Burns, Oregon has made it to the NFL.
Kellen Clemens, the Jets second round pick in this year’s draft, began making the adjustment to life in the NFL at rookie camp a few weeks back. The quarterback acknowledged that the media attention will take some getting used to. Clemens told reporters that he is from a town of 4,000, leading one reporter to joke that there were probably more people in the Jets locker room at the time.
“It’s close, there’s definitely more cameras,” Clemens said with a chuckle.
However, the Jets are more concerned with his transition on the field, hoping that he can be the can be the quarterback of the future. Though he is somewhat undersized at just over six feet tall, Clemens has been a stand-out at every level thus far. In high school, the Burns native was ranked the third best prep quarterback in the country by PrepStar. At the University of Oregon, Clemens was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, recognizing the top senior quarterback in the country. Though he was overlooked in the Pac-10 conference because of all the hype surrounding USC’s Matt Leinart, Clemens was having a very stellar senior season in 2006; that was until he broke his leg in a game at the University of Arizona on October 22.
At first this caused Clemens to slip on many draft boards, going from an expected late first day pick to a potential late round selection. However, the young signal-caller remained unflappable. He underwent surgery to heal his broken fibula then went to work preparing for the NFL combine. Clemens performed well in his pre-draft workouts and watched as his stock continued to climb. Ultimately the Jets selected Clemens with the 49th overall pick. The rookie said his leg is now 100 percent and he is ready to go. Despite his unimpressive arm strength, the Jets hope the mobile quarterback can help the Jets with his accuracy and with the leadership ability he showed at Oregon.
Since arriving Clemens has been careful not to step on any toes in New York. He has commented that starting is not important to him and that he looks forward to the opportunity of learning under a veteran. Though Clemens has not yet met Chad Pennington, he said he looks forward to learning from the returning veteran.
“Obviously he’s a guy who understands what it takes to win in this league,” Clemens said. “Coming in as a rookie, I’d just love to be his shadow for a while and just learn from him as much as I can.”
But head coach Eric Magini has not dismissed the idea of Clemens starting for the Jets as early as this year. With Chad Pennington still in the rehab process according the first-year coach, everyone is in the mix for the starting job.
“It could be anyone; Kellen, Chad, Patrick (Ramsey), and Brooks (Bollinger), they’re all in the mix,” Mangini said. “They all need to compete. Whoever does the best job is going to start.”
The coach also said he saw some positive leadership qualities from Clemens in the team’s second rookie practice. Clemens was able to step up and correct some fellow teammates when they were lined up in the wrong spot.
Still, Clemens has tried to focus on the things he can control at the time being rather than getting wrapped up in the competition for the starting job.
“The main thing I’m focusing on right now is learning the playbook,” the 22-year-old said. “I want to be in a position this fall where I can contribute and help the Jets win. That’s the bottom line is win games.”
For now, Clemens is still working on making the transition to the NFL by making adjustments to the speed of the game, the complexity of the playbook, and the added attention from fans and media.
“At this point, it’s all about hard work for me,” the quarterback said. The Jets hope that Clemens’s work ethic will translate to victory down the road.