With Bradford out, QB Clemens gets his chance to show what he can do
ST. LOUIS -- Terry Graham wonders what might have been.
The football coach at Burns (Ore.) High School, Graham has attentively monitored the NFL career of his most successful former player, St. Louis Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens.
Graham has thought about him often throughout the last few years, and the possibilities dance about the 63-year-old coach's mind.
"He's been put in some awkward situations," Graham says. "When he was there with the Jets and getting the opportunity to finally get in there when they gave him the starting position, he got about a half a season. Then they brought in (Brett) Favre. Then they drafted (Mark) Sanchez. I thought about it many, many times. His dad and I were talking here just the other night. I just wish he'd been able to have that opportunity to stay in that starting position. There's no telling what might have happened if he would have been given that chance."
Clemens, now 30 and in his eighth NFL season, is the Rams' starting quarterback after the season-ending knee injury to Sam Bradford. This is his chance -- perhaps his last chance -- to show the world what he's capable of. And he'll do it in a nationally televised prime time game against arguably the NFL's best team in the Seattle Seahawks.
No pressure, Kellen.
"It's an unfortunate circumstance for Sam," Clemens says. "He's a guy that I admire and I respect as a player, as a person, but at the same time, somebody's going to have to play. So, I am excited that I get that opportunity."
The Rams (3-4) are big underdogs against the visiting Seahawks (6-1). Bovada had Seattle as a 13.5-point favorite Monday morning, odds that some local fans might consider generous after Bradford's injury.
"Every guy in this locker room at some point's been an underdog," Clemens says. "It comes with the territory. You're either favored or you're not. It doesn't matter. We're going to go out there and play our best ball and hopefully come away with a win."
Underdog? Schmunderdog. Clemens has been beating the odds for years.
How many players even last eight seasons in the NFL?
How many quarterbacks are still cashing NFL paychecks after that long?
And how many are sixth-generation cattle ranchers from rural Oregon?
"We've had some small-college guys," says Graham, who is in his 31st season coaching high school football. "This is a small school. We probably have 350 kids in the high school. For him to accomplish what he did, like Parade All-American and those type of things, coming from such a small school, he had to be a pretty good athlete. And to be recognized by Oregon as someone they'd like to have. You're just not going to get a lot of NFL-caliber football players coming out of a school this size."
Clemens was the fourth quarterback selected in the 2006 NFL Draft when the New York Jets tabbed him in the second round with the 49th overall selection out of Oregon. The three quarterbacks picked ahead of him in 2006 were Vince Young (first round, No. 3 overall), Matt Leinart (first round, No. 10 overall) and Jay Cutler (first round, No. 11 overall).
Cutler, when healthy, starts for the Bears, but Young and Leinart are both out of the league and hoping for phone calls from quarterback-desperate clubs. They'd likely trade places with Clemens in a heartbeat.
"There have been a lot of higher-drafted players that aren't around eight years later like Kellen is," Graham said.
Clemens started eight games for the Jets in 2007 after Eric Mangini made the switch from an ineffective Chad Pennington. The Jets went 1-7 that year under Pennington and 3-5 under Clemens, who completed 52 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
From that point, New York's quarterback situation turned into a game of musical chairs that left the Oregon native without a seat when the circus music stopped.
The Jets traded for Favre before the 2008 season, Mangini's final one, and then drafted Sanchez with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft after hiring Rex Ryan as coach. Clemens started just one game in his final three years in New York, leading the Jets to a win at Tampa Bay in 2009.
In 2011 he was signed and released by the Redskins and then signed and waived by the Texans before being claimed by the Rams, who had Bradford sidelined by an ankle injury and backup A.J. Feeley felled by a thumb injury.
Clemens started three games for the 2011 Rams and St. Louis lost all three, seven-point home losses against the Bengals and 49ers and a blowout road loss against the Steelers.
His last start for the Rams came on Jan. 1, 2012, against the 49ers.
"As a person, he's top notch, just a great guy, real easy-go-lucky," Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer says. "Again, he's here early, stays late, works. He was great for Sam in the preparation part of it. It's been kind of fun to watch Sam repay the favor now to Kellen. He's doing some of the projects and stuff that Kellen did for him. So, that's been fun to see.
"He's going to give us everything he's got. He's going to be prepared. He knows what he's doing. He doesn't have to go out there and win the game by himself. He'll make plays. He does a good job just understanding what we're trying to do. When things break down he's got some athleticism, so that's a good thing."
Clemens' teammates have seen what he can do in practice. Now the rest of the world -- or at least those not watching the Cardinals play the Red Sox in the World Series -- will get to do so on Monday Night Football.
"He's been around for a long time," Rams tight end Mike McNeill says. "He's been in the system for a long time. He knows what to do with the ball and where to go with it. Obviously, he's really, really smart. I expect him to make plays. I think everyone expects him to make plays.
"We all have faith that he's going to come in and do a good job."
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @natelatsch or email him at email@example.com.