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August 17, 2018

Next stop for Eagles' RB Corey Clement: NFL stardom

Corey Clement backed into his locker stall at the NovaCare Complex recently, shook his head, and grinned. He didn’t want to hear it. He refused to hear it.

The former Glassboro High and Wisconsin star didn’t want to listen to how arguably he was the best player on the field during Super Bowl LII; how he’s blossomed into a weapon every defense the defending Super Bowl champions face this coming season will have to be well aware of him; and how 2018 could be the star-turning year of his career.

To Clement, a 5-foot-10, 215-pound tailback, he’s just a role player in a room full of running backs that already possess a borderline Hall of Famer (Darren Sproles) and an established star (Jay Ajayi).

Clement still carries the weight of being an undrafted free agent who carried the tag that he couldn’t catch the ball. He likes being reminded of that. In fact, he embraces it.

Keep doubting him. That’s fine with him.

Then there is the powerful reminder of what Clement did just six month ago, on the ultimate football stage before the world to see, when he led the Eagles with 100 yards receiving, averaging a game-high 25 yards per catch. His four receptions included a third-quarter, 22-yard touchdown between two defenders, and his 55-yard reception on a third-and-three at the Eagles’ 37 late in the second quarter set up the iconic “Philly Special” play.

That was six months ago, Clement is quick to remind you.

So, Clement didn’t want to hear how in 2018 he may be on the verge of becoming a star in a league where 31 other teams once rejected him before the hometown Eagles, and Howie Roseman, saw his potential.

Clement’s dream was to play in the NFL. He did in it one year, on the roughest route anyone could take, as an undrafted free agent willing to latch on and be a special teams’ player.

“I still have a long way to go, and I have to get myself together and become a role player here,” Clement said, humbly. “You know me, I try to get in where I can fit in. We have a legend here who’s in the backfield, Darren Sproles, and that guy still deserves a lot of touches.

“I still hear in my head most of those things that I can’t do. I still have the attitude that I have to make it—and I do. My motivation comes within this room, and I mean the running back’s room. Everybody wants to be the best at what they do, and believe me, that pushes you. It motivates you. Everyone wants to be a starting-caliber running back each day, and there’s no hard feelings going around. But when someone is out there, you try and one-up them.

“They’re trying to one-up me. It’s good competition, and it’s friendly.”

In 2017, Clement played in all 16 games. He rushed for 321 yards on 72 carries and four touchdowns, and caught 10 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns. In three playoff games, he exceeded his reception totals with 10 catches for 139 and one memorable touchdown.

Clement actually proved to be more versatile than veterans LeGarrette Blount and Ajayi, able to run between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield. Clement filled in nicely for the injured Sproles, who was lost for the season after the third game in 2017, Sept. 24 against the Giants (the Jake Elliott 61-yard field goal game) breaking his arm and tearing the ACL in his left knee.

Finding where Clement belonged was crucial.

“The most important thing is you have to find what an individual does well,” said Duce Staley, Eagles’ assistant head coach and running backs coach. “Like last year, when you saw Corey out there, you saw LeGarrette, you saw Jay. All of those guys could carry the ball between the tackles, but you look at Corey, he was the one guy that could go out there and run routes on third down. Some of the things Doug [Pederson, Eagles’ head coach] did, which was smart, was call some of those third-down routes on first and second down with Corey in there.

“Corey is hungry this year. He’s hungry. I’ve had the chance to have that conversation with him this off-season about the mentality that I wanted him to have coming back. We talked about that, and we talked about where I thought he should be this year. He has to understand that he’s going to be called on a lot more. That’s what we’re doing. I say he’s Swiss Army knife.”

Clement this preseason has been used to catch punts, he’s been breaking more tackles and running through defenders this summer, and his catching ability and make a defender miss is already established.

“When you look at Corey and his body of work in two short years, it’s been a lot,” Staley said. “I’m excited about [Clement], we’re lucky to have him and I look forward to seeing how good he is as we continue moving on in the future.”

Staley said Clement’s biggest offseason improvement has come in protection. Because of the Eagles’ complex offense, it could take a running back some time to grasp all of the protection responsibilities they have in Pederson’s system. If you’re a running back who can’t block, you won’t get on the field.

“Corey has improved in that,” said Staley, who really took Clement under his wing last season. “It makes you feel good [when a player develops the way Clement did last year], but I had nothing to do with it. It’s my job to evaluate and what it takes for these guys to be successful. When he’s doing something right, I’ll be the first one that tells him, and he was a hell of a player [at Wisconsin].”

Clement concentrated more on his legs in the offseason and is down to 215. He feels good at that weight and he’s not leaving that area.

“I feel good out there and I feel stronger, I’m just trying to one-up everybody,” Clement said. “It’s nothing personal, it’s what I have to do for myself to keep pushing.”

Pushing possibly to NFL stardom.

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