T.J. Clemmings came to Pitt as the highest-ranked recruit in the 2010 recruiting class. Therefore, it's not so much of a surprise that he was one of four true freshmen in his recruiting class to see the field that year. This was amongst a deep defensive line that included Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard—players ahead of Clemmings at his position—that both earned Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors during their career.
Clemmings quickly found himself in the two-deep, once it was determined that Romeus would be lost for a good portion of the season. Clemmings found his way to the two-deep heading into the third game of the season, and ended up playing in eight games. He lettered, had a season-high two stops at Notre Dame and a tackle for a loss at Syracuse.
Then came the coaching change, which on the outside, looks like it would have drastically changed a defensive end's role brought in for a 4-3. Clemmings ended up taking a redshirt last year; a decision he appreciates all the more.
"At first I thought I was going to be able to be out there on the field, but I really realized redshirting was a good thing for me," Clemmings said. "I really wasn't ready. I still didn't understand football as well as I wanted to. By them giving me that (redshirt) year, it was probably the best thing for me."
But now, Clemmings feels he is ready. Not just that, he is comfortable heading back into his comfort zone, which is the 4-3 defense. On top of that—and not so much a credit to him playing sparingly as a true freshman—he feels an even better understanding of the 4-3 than he did as a true freshman.
"I think the 4-3 system is great," Clemmings said. "I understand the defense at (defensive end) position. I've gotten better and feel more comfortable."
Does his head spin around, going from 4-3 to 3-4 and now back to 4-3 again? Not to mention, this was a prospect who played just two years of high school football before coming to Pitt. Clemmings was a basketball player first, before deciding to give football a shot in the fall of his junior year of high school—just three and a half years ago.
"It really doesn't spin around because my freshman year, the defense was really similar to this," Clemmings said. "It's coming back to me, and everything is falling into place. It wasn't really a hard transition at all, being that I really didn't play last year."
There are some things that are the same; mainly the alignment. While Clemmings couldn't get too specific on what his role is going to be as a pass rusher, his position coach Inoke Breckterfield gave us a pretty good idea earlier this week of what Clemmings' big role will be.
"We've got him (Clemmings) over the tight end and that's a coveted job," Breckterfield said. "You're a tight end killer and that should be your job. It's about him getting nasty and knocking that guy back and owning that block. We're working with him on that but T.J.'s very athletic. I just have to get him nastier. I'm going to coach him hard."
Now for a 4-3 end, that doesn't sound like the most exciting job in the world. You're not being asked to cover the tight end, but simply knock him back. Clemmings, however, is excited about this. We know based on Paul Chryst's history at Wisconsin and Joe Rudolph coming along, that they've liked to incorporate their tight ends pretty heavily in the offense. What we didn't know, was that Pitt's defensive line coach would place such an emphasis on jamming—not covering—the tight end, and the importance of it.
"I like it," Clemmings said with a laugh. "(Breckterfield) is helping me become a real tight end killer. He wants to help develop that. That's what he wants me to become, and that's what I want to become myself. It means me just doing my job so everyone else can make plays. That's playing good defense. If I do my job, everyone else will take care of it."
But, as Clemmings said before, the 4-3 scheme is similar to what he was doing before, or at least asked to do in Wannstedt's 4-3.
"It's about the same," Clemmings said. "The defensive end position, coach really wants us to attack the tight end and blow him back (off the ball). That's what he wants us to do. It's really not too different from Coach Wannstedt. Some terminology is the same, some is different."