University of Pittsburgh Panthers
Teaneck, New Jersey
Paterson Catholic High School
OVERVIEWWhen you see the dominance in the trenches that Clemmings possesses, it is hard to imagine that he has just two full seasons playing on the offensive line on his resume. Recruited as a defensive end, he lined up on that side of the ball when he first arrived on campus as a freshman in 2010, shifting to right offensive tackle in 2013.
Blocking for the Panthers, he has compiled a blocking consistency grade of 85.04%, as he generated 157 key blocks/knockdowns. He recorded 15 downfield blocks and 30 touchdown-resulting blocks, yielding just a half-sack through 1,771 plays on offense.
While those figures, along with three Atlantic Coast Conference Lineman of the Week awards as a senior indicate that he is well ahead of the “learning curve” for players with his limited playing time in the trenches, there are still times when the inexperience factor is evident.
In 2014, he allowed six quarterback pressures, as they all came when he failed to redirect when the edge rushers dipped inside (needs to work on hand placement, as he does not always generate a strong jolt). As a junior, he was charged with only one false start penalty, but as a senior, he seemed to jump the gun too often, as he recorded eight penalties that included seven false starts, including three alone in the Virginia contest.
The move to offensive tackle – penalties aside – have been one of the few success stories that head coach Paul Chryst has had in the two years he has been in charge of the program, as he is a master for building a relationship with his players. It was two years ago and Chryst was coming off the field at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, after the Panthers had defeated South Florida in the final regular-season game of 2012.
Chryst ran into — or perhaps made a point of running into — defensive end (at the time) T.J. Clemmings, who hadn’t played in the game. It was then that Chryst first suggested Clemmings consider a move to offensive tackle. “His uniform wasn’t dirty,” Chryst said, recalling the conversation. “I said, `You should think about it.’ ” He said, `Coach, I’ll do whatever I can for this team.’ ”
Almost immediately, Clemmings started working on offense during practices prior to the Compass Bowl vs. Mississippi, and by the end of 2013 spring drills, he had ascended to a starting position. He struggled with the transition last season, but he started every game.
It was not like the coaches simply handed Clemmings the job, though – he had to earn it. After all, heading into training camp, it seemed like a matter of when, not if, Pittsburgh’s five-star freshman Dorian Johnson would seize the starting job at right tackle. But every day, when the first team took the field, Clemmings lined up there.
That's not to say Johnson hasn't lived up to his billing, but rather that Clemmings, a converted defensive end, has gone a long way to locking down a starting job that was anything but a sure thing heading into that 2013 spring camp.
The coaches threw another wrench in the mix during 2013 fall camp, with redshirt senior Juantez Hollins joining the addition of Johnson, Pitt's highest-rated recruit in years as immediate threats to seize the starting right tackle job. Clemmings, though, saw the work he put in over the spring and summer start to pay off.
Being a late bloomer is nothing new for Clemmings. At Paterson Catholic High School, he only played two seasons on the gridiron, yet, by the time he had concluded his senior season, Scout.com accorded him the status as the top overall prospect in New Jersey. That recruiting service also rated him the sixth-best defensive end and 38th-best overall prospect in the nation.
On the football field, Clemmings collected 73 tackles, seven sacks and seven forced fumbles as a senior. The All-New Jersey, All-New Jersey Non-Public, North Jersey Defensive Player of the Year, All-Passaic County and All-BPSL (Bergen-Passaic Scholastic League) Carpenter Division choice led his team to back-to-back Non-Public Group 1 state championships. During his final year, the Cougars went a perfect 11-0 en route to the title, as Clemmings spearheaded a defense that notched five shutouts and yielded just 41 points on the year (3.7 points per game).
Expecting to contribute immediately upon enrolling at the University of Pittsburgh, Clemmings ended up appearing briefly in eight games as a true freshman. Listed third on the depth chart at right defensive end. He managed only three tackles with one stop-for-loss. Mysteriously, the coaches opted to not play him in 2011, as he remained on the scout team, earning red-shirt status.
In 2012, Clemmings appeared in eight games, starting six contests at left defensive end. He registered 20 tackles (13 solos) with one stop for minus two yards. Before Pittsburgh’s trip to Birmingham for the Compass Bowl, the coaches told Clemmings they wanted to move him to offensive tackle, and he obliged, spending all fifteen bowl practices there.
He remained at offensive tackle at times in spring practices, but struggled to pick up some of the nuances of the position. While there, he took most of the first-team snaps, but also shared time with Juantez Hollins and Dorian Johnson before Hollins shifted to the left side. Johnson would end up backing up both Hollins and Clemmings during the 2013 season.
Clemmings' progress after the 2014 season was noticeable. Coaches, teammates and even pro scouts that attended practices leading up to the season opener sensed that “big things” were going to happen for the right tackle. Prior to the season opener, head coach Paul Chryst announced that the senior would serve as one of the team’s captains.
Clemmings earned All-American and All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors. He also received league Lineman of the Week recognition for his performances vs. Boston College, Virginia Tech and Duke. He registered 80 knockdowns and led the charge on fifteen touchdown runs by the Panthers ball carriers (made twenty touchdown-resulting blocks total), in addition to getting down field to deliver eight more hits. He also recovered a fumble in the backfield to keep alive a drive that ended with a touchdown vs. Delaware.
(Photos from USA TODAY Sports)