EARTH CITY, Mo. – St. Louis Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens will have a chance to close the 2013 season in front of friends and family Sunday in Seattle, not far from his offseason home in Walla Walla, Wash.
If Clemens can lead the Rams to a victory, it would allow them to finish at .500 or better for the first time since 2006. It would also give Clemens a chance to finish the season with a winning record as a starter, something nobody would’ve expected when he took over for the injured Sam Bradford in Week 8.
It took almost no time for Clemens to win over the locker room and soon after he began helping the Rams win games.
“He might be one of the most positive guys I’ve been around in my life,” defensive end William Hayes said. “He genuinely cares. At the end of the day, he came in and fulfilled his job. Every game you could say he gave us a chance to win the game. We might not have pulled it off but for the most part if you go down the schedule a lot of the games he gave us a chance to win. That’s all you can ask for.”
When Bradford suffered that torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament on Oct. 20, the hopes of a Rams’ playoff run quickly evaporated, though in looking back and seeing what it’s going to take to make the postseason in the NFC, it would have been a long shot anyway.
Clemens had started 12 games in his career, posting a 4-8 record, a 52 percent career completion rate and a touchdown to interception ratio of seven to 13.
Although those numbers didn’t do much to inspire confidence, the Rams pointed to intangibles like leadership and toughness as reasons they could win with Clemens under center.
Perhaps most important, Clemens’ knowledge of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense was his greatest asset. That information not only helped Clemens run the full scope of the offense but also to help the offense’s many young skill position players grow and mature.
Rookie receiver Stedman Bailey is a prime example. Bailey and Clemens built a bond working with the second team during training camp and the first part of the season. Bailey slowly worked his way up the wideout depth chart and when Clemens took over as starter and Bailey got more opportunities, their chemistry was immediately evident.
Now Bailey has grown into the type of receiver that could have a bright future as a potential starter in no small part because of Clemens’ guidance.
“Kellen is great with those kind of things, going over things and making sure you know what your assignment is and knowing where you need to be on the field,” Bailey said. “He always takes extra time out of his time to make sure he’s helping guys out and being a great leader.”
The behind the scenes impact was expected. What has been more surprising is the more tangible contributions. While the Rams haven’t asked Clemens to do more than absolutely necessary, leaning strongly on a run-heavy attack, he’s made the most of the opportunities he’s had.
In each of the past two weeks against New Orleans and Tampa Bay, Clemens has set a career mark for completion percentage at 70 then 80 percent. While those benchmarks are being hit in games in which he’s not throwing more than 20 times, his 7.15 yards per attempt average show that when he’s letting it fly he’s generally getting a positive result.
As he prepares to face the same Seattle team he met in his first start of the season for the second time, Clemens has come a long way since that initial meeting. That matchup saw Clemens post two interceptions and a QBR of 16.3.
The Seahawks defense remains one of the toughest in the league, especially at defending the pass but Clemens believes he’s improved since.
“I think, obviously, he’s gotten more comfortable with the guys,” Schottenheimer said. “I think that’s part of the deal in throwing the football. I thought last week was one of his most accurate games he’s had throwing the football. I think that’s a big part of it. I think he’s, obviously, much more comfortable just in his weekly preparation and how he’s doing. But he’s played very, very well.”
Coming out of training camp and the preseason, Clemens did just enough to edge out Austin Davis for the backup job to Bradford. Neither had done much to make a compelling case to stay in the games or during practice.
Given the chance to play as much as he has, Clemens has now made the case that bringing him back again in a backup role next year is a viable option. Even if (or when) the Rams add another quarterback through the draft, Clemens has proved to be the consummate professional capable of helping all of his young teammates.
For now, Clemens is just making sure to savor every last opportunity.
“It’s been a lot of fun. There’s been some things you’d like to maybe do over, but some moments that I will cherish for a long time. And not all of them have been plays on the field. A lot of it’s just been memories and interactions with the guys, being in the huddle. It’s been a lot of fun.”