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April 15, 2013It might be hard to believe that just five months ago, T.J. Clemmings was chasing quarterbacks rather than protecting them.
Since moving from defensive end to offensive tackle in December, Clemmings has had 30 practices - 15 during bowl preparation and 15 this spring - to learn an entirely new position. But while it may be astonishing for others to see him become the starting right tackle during spring, it's not to the redshirt junior.
"You know what, it's not," Clemmings said after Pitt's Blue-Gold scrimmage Friday night, "because I'm actually having fun. I'm having fun what I'm doing. I'm enjoying playing offensive line. Coach (Jim) Hueber is a great coach. He gets on you, but he gets on you because he wants us to do good. He's helped me grow a whole lot in a short space of time."
Clemmings improved enough over the spring to earn the Ed Conway award for the most improved offensive player during spring workouts.
"I knew I was working pretty hard to really learn how to play the position," he said. "It's a nice award to get, and it showed that my coaches really noticed what I was doing. It was nice."
Head coach Paul Chryst added: "Any time you have an award, there's other guys that are deserving. I appreciate what T.J. did, flipping over from defense to offense, and he's a guy that's got a chance to help us."
After taking a redshirt in 2011, Clemmings projected as a starter at defensive end last season, but a multitude of injuries limited him to only six starts and eight games played and he finished the year with 20 tackles, one tackle for loss and three quarterback hurries. Then the coaches asked him to move to offensive tackle prior to preparations for the BBVA Compass Bowl.
It hasn't been the easiest transition, but Clemmings has come a long way since his first day on offense. He said his biggest strides have come in pass protection and identifying what the defense is doing, but he feels like he has done his best to pick up everything.
"Just really learning as fast as I can," Clemmings said was his key. "I really can't focus on one specific thing to work on today, or one specific thing to work on the other day, you just have to really try to learn everything and pick it up as fast as possible in a short time."
Aside from a practice or two, Clemmings maintained a stronghold on the starting right tackle position for the majority of spring camp. His main competition has come from redshirt senior Juantez Hollins, who started in 2011 but was suspended for the entire 2012 season.
But the elephant in the room is incoming freshman Dorian Johnson. The five-star offensive line prospect from Belle Vernon is an impressive recruit at 6'6" 280, and he has the talent to compete immediately at the collegiate level. If Johnson is going to see the field in 2013, right tackle would be his position; that means he would be coming after Clemmings.
For his part, Clemmings isn't concerned about the competition, though.
"I can't really worry about a freshman coming in, or somebody like Juantez or something like that. I've got to focus on myself really. It's a group thing, but at the end of the day, I still have to work for my spot and continue to get better myself."