One of the reasons Corey Clement went undrafted in April was that NFL teams had questions about the running back’s ability to catch the football.
He wasn’t used much as a receiver at the University of Wisconsin, catching a total of 29 passes in 39 games. But there he was Monday night, making an acrobatic touchdown catch on national television in the Eagles’ big 34-24 win over the Redskins.
“Yeah, I’m not supposed to be able to catch,’’ the rookie said with a smile.
Clement went into Monday’s game with 25 rushing attempts this season but just one reception. The touchdown catch from Wentz wasn’t scripted. “I was the last read,’’ he said.
On a third-and-goal at the Washington 9, Wentz dropped back to pass, only to have the pocket collapse. He dodged defensive tackle Terrell McClain and stepped up in the pocket. But there was more trouble waiting for him there from defensive end Matt Ioannidis and linebacker Mason Foster.
He looked toward the end zone, but all his receivers were covered. Then, just as Ioannidis and Foster closed in on him, Wentz spotted Clement on the right side, racing past linebacker Zach Brown into the end zone. He lofted the ball over Brown’s head. Clement jumped, caught the ball, and got both his feet inbounds.
Clement had run a simple out route on the play. But when he saw that Wentz was in trouble, he cut upfield.
“That’s why I stayed alive,’’ the Glassboro High grad said. “Because I know Carson’s always good on his feet. If he can stay alive, then I’ve got to do my part and stay alive as well. You always want to play hard for a guy like Carson. He’s fighting for every inch, every yard.
“I saw the linebacker [Brown]. He creeped into the flat. I had reached the end of my route, so we did the scramble drill. Carson found me, which surprised me because I didn’t think he saw me.’’
Clement wasn’t the only rookie to play a prominent role Monday. Fourth-round wide receiver Mack Hollins caught a 64-yard touchdown pass from Wentz. As with Clement, it was his first career scoring reception.
Hollins had two catches for 38 yards in the Eagles’ Week 6 win over Carolina. Both went for first downs on second-half scoring drives, including a 20-yard catch on a third-and-11 late in the third quarter.
His touchdown against the Redskins came on a second-and-16 play in the second quarter with the Eagles trailing, 10-3. He beat safety D.J. Swearinger with a nice double move, and Wentz delivered a perfect deep ball.
“Every time he’s in there, it seems like he just makes plays,’’ Wentz said of Hollins. “He finds a way to get open, and he’s effective. And I don’t think a lot of teams really respect that or know that about him.
“So he is just a big weapon for us when we need a guy. He can just step in and kind of [play] anywhere.’’
When the Eagles opened their locker room to the media after the game Monday night, Hollins had already left. It apparently didn’t dawn on the rookie that reporters might be interested in talking to him.
Yet another rookie, first-round defensive end Derek Barnett, had two of the Eagles’ four sacks of Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins.
“All of the rookies have tried to just come in, make plays, and help the team win as much as possible,’’ Barnett said.
“As rookies, we have a big chip on our shoulder,’’ Clement said. “When we come out here, we’re always overlooked by somebody. But just because we’re rookies doesn’t mean we can’t go out there and make a play.
“When we’re out there, we try to think and play as veterans. When we walk out there with all of those veterans like [Brent] Celek and the other guys, we want to prove that we belong out here. I never want anyone second-guessing why I’m out there on the field.’’
In addition to his 9-yard touchdown catch, Clement picked up an important first down early in the fourth quarter with a 6-yard run on a third-and-6 play. Three plays later, Wentz threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor that gave the Eagles a 31-17 lead.
Clement worked hard during the spring and summer to prove to the coaching staff that he could be a three-down back. He impressed them with both his pass-catching and his ability to pass-protect.
“Everybody’s going to say something [negative] about somebody,’’ he said. “It’s just a matter of whether you’re going to back it up [and prove them wrong], or complain about it. I chose to back it up.
“I just want to make sure I’m ready for every opportunity I come across. Hopefully, next game, I’ll get another receiving touchdown.’’