Position switch saved Clemmings’ career

T.J. Clemmings was recruited and played two years as a defensive lineman, but his rankings (and earning power) only improved with a switch to the offensive line.

A move across the trenches likely saved T.J. Clemmings’ chance to make it to the NFL.

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After being rated as the sixth-best defensive end prospect in the 2010 recruiting class, Clemmings never fully developed on that side of the ball. He started only six games in his first two seasons before coach Paul Cryst suggested he try to the block defensive ends instead of being one of them.

“All the techniques were difficult at first. It was more the terminology and learning the plays,” Clemmings said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Once I got that down, then I was able to focus in a lot more on the techniques and get those down.

“At the time, I wasn’t having the success I wanted on defense. Offensive line, that literally was my last option. I wanted to get back on the field. I wanted to play. I wanted to start again.”

He did. He started 13 games in 2013 and 2014 for Pittsburgh and is now ranked the third-best offensive tackle by Scout.com in the 2015 NFL draft rankings, like a second- or third-round pick.

It’s funny how things can work out when a player finds the position best-suited for his skills.

“If I didn’t switch over to the offensive line, that might have been it for me as far as playing football in college,” he said. “I definitely want to play, so it was a no-brainer.”

He has worked on becoming versatile enough to play left or right tackle, but naturally there are techniques to hone. That’s why he doesn’t seem particularly bothered when analysts describe the 309-pound, 6-foot-4½ player as raw.

“It doesn’t bother me. If that’s what they feel, that’s fine. The truth of the matter is I only have two years of offensive line under my belt and that’s not going to change from now until the draft,” he said. “It’s the truth that I need some work in some things and I’m ready to work on things that people feel I need to work on.”

Clemmings said he didn’t resist the move to the offensive side of the ball. He simply put in extra time to make the transition.

He also played basketball from the time he was 8 years old until his senior year in school and even had offers to play hoops from Rutgers, Seton Hall and Providence. He believes the footwork associated with basketball also boosts his football skills.

But he also has the distinction of being in the last class at Paterson (N.J.) Catholic High School. After he left, they closed the doors. Now it’s up to him represent that and the University of Pittsburgh in the NFL.

“I feel great. I was part of the last class to graduate from Paterson Catholic,” he said. “Just to be here in front of all you guys is a blessing and it’s truly an honor to represent Paterson Catholic.”


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