Corey Clement had just three weeks to enjoy what looked to be an unbelievably great situation with the Eagles. It might still turn out well for the Glassboro High School graduate who went on to become part of the winningest class in University of Wisconsin history. But things have definitely changed.
Clement’s phone started ringing as soon as the NFL draft ended and the 5-foot-10, 220-pound running back was still up for grabs. He wanted Philly to call, because Philly is home and because he knows and has the support of some members of the organization. He also wanted it to be the Eagles because, let’s face it, running back was not a position of strength. Philly called and Clement answered.
“There were a few [others],” Clement said, “but I really think this staff has my back. Relationships go a long way. If it doesn’t work out here, those guys will put in a good word for me. I think I’ll get the best shot possible. They’re not going to cheat me. I’m here to compete. I don’t want to be handed anything. I want to work for it.”
It’s always work for an undrafted free agent to make an NFL team, although Clement could look at the running game here and see an opening. There is Ryan Mathews, who is almost certain to be released once he is healthy; a couple of little guys in Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey, who are similar jitterbug players; second-year back Wendell Smallwood, who was nothing more than all right as a rookie; and Byron Marshall, who was equally average.
A great spot for an all-around back who is neither big nor small to sneak in and find a home, right? Yes, for three weeks, it definitely was.
And then the Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount.
“It’s a numbers game, but, at the same time, what can I do?” Clement said. “I just worry about myself. What am I going to do, compete with him every day? I still have to just be the best man I can be.”
At 250 pounds, Blount is a punishing inside runner. Clement likes to go downhill, too, but he doesn’t have as much gravity on his side. He decided the way to help himself was to slim down a little and he has gone from 220 to 215, and says he feels more mobile and faster. He had better be, because he’s not going to out-physical Blount and he’s not going to out-quick Sproles and Pumphrey. He needs to show the best of both and pretty quickly.
“I wanted to show I can be a businessman about my work. I want to look more like a running back,” Clement said. “I go up to people and they ask me if I’m a linebacker. That’s why I had to lose some weight. In high school, I felt like a feather, so I wanted to get back to that.
“They’ve got a big back [in Blount]. I think I can feel more comfortable within myself and get more out of my production if I’m lighter. I feel quicker in and out of cuts, in and out of routes. I want to show Duce [running backs coach Duce Staley] that if he works with me, I can be a great running back.”
Clement gained 1,375 yards in a workload of 314 rushing attempts for the Badgers last season and scored 15 rushing touchdowns. The one real hole in his resume is that he didn’t catch many passes. According to Clement, there’s a good reason for that. They didn’t throw him many.
“I might have gotten a screen pass here or there. In my spare time, I catch the ball, I run wide receiver routes. I keep perfecting what everybody thinks I lack,” Clement said. “I want to say, ‘Just throw me the ball. I can show you that I can catch.’ It’s very comfortable for me to catch the ball out of the backfield and produce yards after the catch. The hard part is that I don’t have anything to back that up yet. I understand why people talk about it, but I’m in a new position now and can showcase what I can do. I’m basically in a spread offense and will get the chance to catch the ball.”
When that chance arrives during training camp, Clement had better take advantage, just as he had better show he can split the difference between LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles in the backfield.
The next few weeks are vital for Clement, and they could be very exciting. It would be hard to be as exciting as those three weeks between the time Clement signed and the time Blount joined the team, however.
“To be realistic, he’s here for a reason. They want him,” Clement said. “I’m going to give them reasons to keep me. That’s the reality of the game. You want to give them more reasons to keep you than the next person.”
There are dozens of stories like that in the NovaCare Complex locker room right now, a whole bunch of guys counting the players at their positions and pretending they aren’t. What will it take? A little luck, a good camp, a light bulb moment when the coaches look at one another and know that guy will be staying. Clement probably needs all three, and he understands the reality of the situation. He has to give them reasons, and he plans to do just that.