January 11, 2018
On Saturday, before facing Matt Ryan and the Falcons, the Eagles will walk through the tunnel and onto the turf at Lincoln Financial Field just like they have before every home game this season. Only this time, it'll be different.
It's the playoffs, and the atmosphere in South Philly is going to be insane as the Birds play their first postseason game in four years. For several members of the team, it will be their first taste of the NFL playoffs. And that includes local rookie running back Corey Clement, who grew up in Glassboro, N.J. and was signed as a free agent last offseason after going undrafted out of Wisconsin.
"It's fun. It's a blessing. And just looking back at my journey, it's still being written," Clement said Thursday. "As far as going out there, I don't want to make it bigger than it is. I've been playing football all my life, doing it for so many things – my family, my friends, Glassboro, N.J. Just really putting things on my back and just making sure I become more mature in handling my business so I can help out the other 10 guys on the field."
But what have the last few days leading up to their divisional round matchup with the Falcons, given that the last time the Birds played a game this late in January he was just a young 14-year-old Eagles fan in South Jersey?
"It's been fun," Clement said with a smile. "Of course, there's a lot of outside noise that's against us, but at the same time, we love it. We live for it. We're going to do it for the city of Philadelphia. And if anybody is going to come out to that game, it's going to be electrifying and we're going to put our best foot forward."
On Thursday, with the weather much warmer than its been in recent days, the Eagles practiced at the Linc. And that walk out onto the field, through the same tunnel they'll use on Saturday, was enough to give Clement a taste of what game day is going to feel like.
"Yeah, I definitely had a little glimpse of [what it'll be like]," he said. "I kind of flashed back to Christmas night when we walked out in the black jerseys. You just get a different sense of what's coming in the next day or two. I walked out of the tunnel today just trying to imagine what it will be like – fireworks, fans getting there even earlier than they do now. I've heard great stories and great memories from other players, so I'm excited."
Despite being third on the depth chart behind LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, Clement has brought some fireworks of his own at times this year. The 23-year-old back has appeared in all 16 games for the Birds and in addition to stellar special teams play, he's also contributed on offense to the tune of 74 carries for 321 yards and four rushing touchdowns. Through the air, Clement has caught 10 passes for 123 yards and two scores. Oh, and he also scored three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) in the Eagles' blowout win over the Broncos, a game in which he carried the ball a season-high 12 times for 51 yards.
The addition of Ajayi at the trade deadline caused Clement's numbers to take a hit in the second half of the season, but it didn't change his business-like approach, one you don't often see from rookies, especially those dealing with the distractions that come with playing so close to where they grew up.
"My mentality hasn't changed since the first day I got here," Clement said. "I've been busting my tail on special teams, on offense – whatever the coaches ask for, I try my best to do it. Taking every day light and making sure I stay ready, humble and just be in the moment. Don't really get outside of it. Don't look back. Don't look forward."
Clement also understands why it's foolish to look forward – if you don't take care of the business at hand, the only thing left to look forward to is the offseason. Beyond that, nothing's guaranteed. And the rookie doesn't have to walk very far to find examples of players who reached the pinnacle (or got close) and are still waiting for a chance to get back.
Just ask safety Malcolm Jenkins, who won a Super Bowl with the Saints as a rookie but has yet to make it back. Or wideout Torrey Smith, who got his Super Bowl ring in his second season but hasn't made it past the divisional round since. Or tight end Brent Celek, who went to an NFC title game in his second year but has failed to win a playoff game in the nine seasons since.
"It definitely means that next year isn't promised – not the same position we're in now – so we've got to talk hold of it," Clement said. "Many teams don't get to this point, so you can't look back and reflect on the past too much because this team matters now."
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