Clemens overcame broken leg as college senior en route to becoming Jets' starting QB
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Kellen Clemens couldn't prevent the negative thoughts from floating through his mind.
The hard-throwing quarterback was home recovering from a broken left leg two years ago, his senior season at Oregon over and his hopes of playing in the NFL suddenly in jeopardy.
"I thought maybe I had a chance to come back for maybe a bowl game," the New York Jets' new starting quarterback recalled Wednesday. "Then when they said, 'You're done,' the reality hits you that your career may be over playing. It's not an easy thing to hear."
Clemens was playing himself into top prospect status in mid-October 2005, when an Arizona player took him down with a horsecollar tackle. The sack broke Clemens' leg -- and his spirit.
"I kind of pouted, moped around for a couple of days," Clemens said. "My wife was tolerant of it for about a day. She said, 'Look, this isn't you. This isn't the person you are. You need to buck up and get back on the horse."
Nicole Clemens' pep talk snapped her husband out of the doldrums and got him refocused.
"I just put my mind to it and said I'm going to give myself the best chance I can to hopefully play again one day," Clemens said. "And here I am."
He sure is. And it's a long way from Burns, Ore., where he grew up on a 3,500-acre ranch with more than 100 cows.
Clemens has replaced Chad Pennington as the Jets' starting quarterback for at least New York's game against Washington on Sunday. He appeared extremely comfortable talking with the media Wednesday in what had normally been Pennington's weekly news conference.
After Clemens stepped behind the podium and waited for his first question, there was a brief silence in the press room. Clemens looked out and playfully said, "OK," with a smile -- as if to say he's done, see you later -- and he pretended to step away.
That's the type of swagger he's shown since he was drafted last year in the second round as a possible successor to Pennington.
"You don't ever want to lose that confidence as a quarterback," Clemens said. "I guess the way that I continued to work on it and maintain it was through my reps with the scout team. When I tried to step into the huddle when we were going against our defense, trying to prepare them, I tried to talk to those guys as if we were going out there on Sunday."
Now that the Jets are Clemens' team, coach Eric Mangini thinks the players will respond to their new quarterback despite his inexperience because of his presence and command of the huddle.
"Really, where that stood out was in college," Mangini said. "That's what you saw on tape was that presence. As you talked to his college coaches, the people that played with him, the people that knew him really well, that was one of the consistent characteristics that kept coming up."
Clemens will be making his second NFL start Sunday, but his first came as a fill-in for an injured Pennington. That was in Week 2 against Baltimore, where he struggled through the first half before cutting a 20-3 lead to seven points in the fourth quarter and nearly pulling off a comeback.
"He can throw it, especially in a game when he has a little emotion going," said safety Kerry Rhodes, a former high school quarterback. "It's pretty tough to compare who he throws like, but just seeing him in practice, he has a cannon."
That in itself will be a big change for the wide receivers. Pennington has made a career of being efficient and keeping mistakes to a minimum to make up for his lack of arm strength. Clemens puts a bit more zip on his passes and gives the Jets an ability to stretch the field.
"There's definitely a chemistry factor that a quarterback needs to have with his receivers," Clemens said. "Fortunately, I threw with them all summer, a lot of training camp, various spurts I guess through the season thus far."
If Clemens can open up the passing game, the running game will also benefit an offense that ranks 30th in the league.
"He's a natural leader," running back Thomas Jones said. "When he comes into the huddle, he has a presence. He's a smart guy and he knows the offense really well. He's one of those guys that's here all the time in the playbook and watching film. We're going to be behind him 100 percent and make sure we're doing our part to make his job easier."
And that's something Clemens might need Sunday. Washington's playmaking defense might do all they can to disrupt him and shatter his confidence. That's OK with Clemens.
"I've been pressured and blitzed and knocked down since I was playing this game as a teenager," Clemens said. "I'm used to it. I'm not worried about."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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