Redskin linebacker Chris Clemons is a young man who knows that he has to make the most of his opportunities. In six weeks of action with the Redskins late last season, that's exactly what he did.
Washington signed Clemons on Nov. 24. Four days later, he was sacking Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Clemons, a native of Griffin, Ga., was a standout linebacker at the University of Georgia, where he registered 53 tackles in his junior season of 2002 and was named the team's most improved linebacker.
The Redskins signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent in April of 2003, but he was placed on the team's injured reserve list after suffering a knee injury in preseason.
Clemons was waived after the 2004 preseason and it seemed like his Redskins career had come to an end. He was picked up by the Cleveland Browns a week later and assigned to the practice squad.
In late November, the Redskins' linebacker corps was in a bit of a quandary. Pro Bowler LaVar Arrington had been out since early in the season with a knee injury and his return was in doubt. Mike Barrow had been nursing a knee injury all season and was placed on injured reserve. Khary Campbell, a key reserve and special teams playmaker, also went down with a knee injury.
So the Redskins signed Clemons off of the Browns' practice squad. Clemons' speed as a blitzing linebacker had impressed defensive coaches in the preseason and they kept their eye on him even when he was in Cleveland.
With only four days to prepare for the Steelers, Clemons knew that he had to work hard to re-learn the Redskins' defensive scheme.
"I studied Roethlisberger all week," the 6-3, 234-pound Clemons recalled. "I knew where I could attack him. I knew what his weaknesses were and what his strong points were. The opportunity came, and I took advantage of it."
Said assistant head coach-Gregg Williams: "Chris Clemons is a guy who came back to us and we knew exactly what we were getting. You don't often see a guy come back on your team from someplace else and in the same week, play and produce."
Two weeks later, Clemons made another big play on a bigger stage, a nationally televised game against NFC rival Philadelphia.
With 3:49 left in the first half, the Eagles and Redskins were locked in a 7-7 stalemate. Eagles' quarterback Donovan McNabb had led his team to the Redskins' 24-yard line, well within field goal range. As McNabb dropped back to pass, he was sacked by the blitzing Clemons. The ball popped loose and was recovered by an Eagles offensive lineman at the 30-yard line.
The loss of yardage pushed kicker David Akers' field goal attempt to 48 yards. His kick fell short. Clemons' big play had preserved the tie as the teams went into halftime.
"I had to win my one-on-one matchup, and I went out and made the play," Clemons said. "It was a big play, but I saw the ball on the ground and we had to get it. It would have been an even bigger play if we recovered the fumble."
Down the stretch, Clemons continued to make plays. Remember Antonio Pierce's 78-yard interception return for a touchdown in the 26-16 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15? It was Clemons who leveled a punishing block on a would-be tackler, helping Pierce break loose down the left sideline.
In the Redskins' 13-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 26, Clemons may have had his best game in the NFL, recording a pair of tackles and a sack of Dallas quarterback Vinny Testaverde late in the game.
If opponents didn't have a lot of film on Chris Clemons in the early going last year, they certainly have plenty by now. He finished the season with nine tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble.
For Clemons to compare notes on how to make plays in the NFL, he doesn't have to look far. His older brother, Nic, is a defensive lineman who was on the Redskins' practice squad for the past two seasons. Nic was resigned to the team's off-season roster last week.
The brothers played together at the University of Georgia for two years and have continued their careers in Washington. Both are nephews of Houston Texans linebacker Charlie Clemons.