Corey Clement doesn’t flinch. Never has, at least not in the time he’s been an Eagle, climbing the ladder from undrafted rookie to special teams standout to contributor on offense to Super Bowl star and now, on the cusp perhaps, of being the go-to running back for this football team. One season and five games later, that is. A rapid progression and certainly an improbable one.
All without a flinch.
“Yeah, definitely,” Clement said on Tuesday when asked if he’s ready for a big workload if called upon, now that the Eagles are without Jay Ajayi for the remainder of the season after Ajayi tore his left ACL in Sunday’s loss to Minnesota. “I think, whenever you come into a business like this, you’ve got to expect it. You’ve got to expect a heavy workload. Even if it’s not your first year, it may hit you on your second which looks like it’s doing it with me. I get to share with Wendell (Smallwood) and Josh Adams. Yes, we do have a young group but it doesn’t (account) for the fact that we’re led by a great coach, Duce Staley, here in our running back room.
“If we take everything into account, we should have a lot of fun in this game.”
OK, so let’s take a look at what is directly in front of the Eagles: They open the NFC East schedule on Thursday night against the New York Giants after having lost two straight games, the most recent of which happened on Sunday. Clement hasn’t played the last couple of weeks after suffering a quad injury in practice, the cause of which Clement said was “muscle exhaustion.” He wasn’t active for the loss in Tennessee. He was active and in uniform on the sidelines on Sunday against Minnesota, ready in case of an emergency need in the backfield.
If there’s anyone who actually benefits from the four days between games it’s Clement, who was not quite ready for Sunday but now has fresh legs and a lot of excitement about Thursday.
“I feel great. I’m ready to get back out there Thursday night against the Giants,” he said. “It feels like a long time coming.”
Staley, the team’s assistant head coach and running backs coach, certainly wants to keep rotating his backs. He’s got Clement and Smallwood, and he’s got faith in both. He’s high on the rookie Adams, but he’s a rookie and he hasn’t had enough experience to fully “get” the NFL game. Veteran Darren Sproles won’t play for a fifth straight game as he recovers from a hamstring injury. The Eagles haven’t sustained much of a running game – or much of an offense in general this season – so it’s difficult to know exactly how it will work, but if the blueprint becomes reality the Eagles will score early and run the football heartily to keep drives going.
And that would mean a lot of both Clement and Smallwood.
“I feel great, 100 percent,” Clement said. “Now it’s time to play some football.”
Ajayi’s injury diagnosis was a stunner. Nobody seems to know specifically how it happened, although Ajayi came off the field in the third quarter after he took on a blitzing Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr, was evaluated in the blue tent in the Eagles’ bench area, and then returned to the game. Everyone was shocked on Monday when an MRI revealed that Ajayi had torn his left anterior cruciate ligament.
But there is no time to wallow in the news. It’s all systems go. And as the outside world speculates on whether the Eagles will make a move to add to the backfield, Clement is keeping his focus on the present. The Eagles have a game to win at MetLife Stadium. Clement is going to play a large role in the offense.
That much is certain.
“I’m not interested one bit,” Clement said about the rumors. “I know what we have in this building. I know who we have in our running back room, so there’s no need to look outside the room. We know where our strength is, the type of dedication each and every running back has put into this room, especially Training Camp, offseason, just to get to this point. I trust in Wendell. I trust in Josh Adams. I trust in Darren Sproles. I trust in Duce Staley to keep this train rolling.
“If anything, I’m not worried about any of the outside news about who we’re trading for or who we’re looking for.”
Not a flinch. Not a blink. Clement is prepared to handle whatever the Eagles need him to do, as he has done since he signed here. He has uncommon maturity. A personnel evaluator with the Eagles referred to Clement as a “guy who is the same every day.” There is no higher compliment to give.
Clement related a story Staley told in the running backs room, asking Sproles if he ever had the chance to step up and “potentially work your way in as a starter” in his career. Not in a first or second year, Sproles said. The moral of the story, Clement said, is that players have to recognize when a true opportunity knocks and then go answer the call confidently.
“You’ve got to take the challenge on,” Clement said.
And so he will, just as he has done at every level of his career, and certainly as an Eagle.