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Homegrown Clemons Eyes Starting Role

Every offseason, the Redskins are aggressive in acquiring players in free agency--but that doesn't mean the team devalues homgrown talent. Consider linebacker Chris Clemons, a prime candidate to fill the Redskins' vacancy at the weak-side next season.

Clemons first signed with the Redskins as an undrafted rookie in 2003, facing an uphill battle for playing time with the likes of LaVar Arrington, Jeremiah Trotter and Jessie Armstead on the roster. Clemons suffered a hip injury, though, ending his season.

A year later, the 6-3, 240-pounder spent time on the Cleveland Browns' practice squad before re-signing with the Redskins in late November 2004. Finally, his career began to take off.

Clemons logged three sacks in the Redskins' final six games, serving as a speed rusher. Last season, coming into the lineup mostly on third downs, he played in 13 games and had two more sacks, seven quarterback pressures and a forced fumble.

Now Clemons is in line to take over for Arrington at weak-side.

"I do feel like I've grown with this organization," Clemons said. "When I first came here in 2003, we had [former head coach] Steve Spurrier here. Then in my second year, it was kind of shaky for a lot of guys.

"Coaches brought in a new system and we had to learn everything. It wasn't that a whole lot of rules changed, but the structure of everything changed. So I had to kind of adjust to that."

During the last three years, Clemons has forged a close bond with the team's coaches, particularly linebackers coach Dale Lindsey. In turn, coaches feel they can trust Clemons in the lineup because they have helped developed his skills.

Clemons, whose brother Nic is a reserve defensive lineman for the Redskins, entered the 2006 offseason as a restricted free agent and he elected to sign his one-year tender on April 5.

"I wanted to be here and I didn't want to go anywhere else," he said. "I love the defensive system here and I love the coaches. Even when I was in Cleveland, I was missing it every day. I wanted to be here. These coaches are kind of like father figures for me. I talk to all of them, but Coach Lindsey has given me the most advice on a lot of things because I'm with him most of the time. He was one of the main reasons I decided to come back."

In addressing the weak-side linebacker position, team officials have a number of options.

The Redskins have the No. 53 overall pick in the April 29-30 NFL Draft and could select a linebacker with that pick.

Eight-year veteran Warrick Holdman, who re-signed with the team on Tuesday, will certainly be in the mix. Coaches could also give second-year player Robert McCune or newcomer Jashon Sykes a look.

Clemons could have an advantage, though.

It's unlikely that a rookie would start right away in [assistant head coach-defense] Gregg Williams' schemes. McCune saw limited playing time last year and Sykes did not play at all after he was released by the Broncos after 2005 preseason.

Said Clemons: "I come out here every day trying to prove myself and trying to prove to coaches and all of the people in the organization that I'm worthy of being a starter at that position. I've played the position in college and I know that the transition from strong-side linebacker to the weak-side isn't a big shift.

"Coach Lindsey called me and told me there was a vacancy [at weak-side linebacker] and that if I wanted it, I would have to work for it. Nothing gets handed to you."

Clemons's five career sacks coming in on third downs the last two seasons have helped boost his confidence that he can play at the NFL level. But he's quick to add that he'll "never get cocky."

Clemons says he is constantly looking to improve his game.

"The biggest thing I'm working to improve on is playing in space and coverage," he said. "That's the main thing with the [weak-side] linebacker, because you have to be able to play in space since you're on the short side of the formation."

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