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August 9, 2013

Clemmings fights for his spot

When T.J. Clemmings is on the field, he has plenty to worry about in front of him.

Working on the offensive line for the first time in his career, Clemmings' hands are full with guys like Aaron Donald coming at him while he's learning a new position that he's only been playing since last December. Still, with all the action in front of him, Clemmings is always looking over his shoulder for who's behind him:

Offensive line coach Jim Hueber.

"Like I told him, I need to be on him," Hueber said. "I need to ride him as hard as I can, so when he goes on the field, it's easy. He doesn't need to worry about anything else because I'm not out there with him, but he needs to be looking over his shoulder right now, and he knows that."

Clemmings is competing to earn Pitt's starting right tackle job on opening night against Florida State. Despite never playing a game on the offensive line, the redshirt junior is adjusting to his new role, and Hueber is pushing him to be the best.

"He got right on me from the jump," Clemmings said of his new position coach. "His coaching style is amazing and he wants perfection. He wants you to be the best that you can be. He's not yelling for no reason, so he's helped me out a lot and the whole offensive line."

Clemmings, 6'6" 305, was moved from defensive end to offensive tackle during bowl practice last season. He worked primarily as the first-team right tackle during spring practice and has continued that role as fall camp began.

Needless to say, the redshirt junior has never played a down along the offensive line, but he has gotten plenty of reps throughout the off-season to prepare himself for his role. Hueber has also put pressure on Clemmings - along with every other lineman - to make things easier in an actual game.

"He puts a lot of pressure on you out in practice, so once you're out on the field it becomes easy," Clemmings said. "Hopefully in the games, it'll be easy since he puts so much pressure on us now. It's really good for us."

He added: "Obviously in a game, there will be a lot of pressure, but it may not be so much. I've never played offensive line in a game, so I have no clue what it's like out there. But he pressures us here to get things right, so when we're in the game, the crowd may be going crazy, but we'll know what to do. The pressure that we're getting here that he's giving us is good pressure. He's staying on us because he wants us to be great."

Clemmings has found a learning curve during his transition. He's still working to digest the playbook and perfect his technique while continuing to study film on himself, but he added things feel more natural than in spring practice.

He has also leaned on first-team right guard Matt Rotheram for advice during camp. Rotheram started 12 games at right tackle last season before moving inside for the bowl game.

Pitt has used the same five along the first-team offensive line since spring, and Clemmings said chemistry has already formed.

"The chemistry looks good," he said. "We eat together. We do everything together, so we talk about playing with each other and what we're thinking. Coach, he likes that stuff when we're communicating. It's all about communication."

Though Clemmings is looking over his shoulder for Hueber, he's also feeling the heat of competition. Redshirt senior Juantez Hollins, off a season-long suspension in 2012, has been the third tackle in practice, getting a few first-team reps and working to earn playing time.

In addition, the arrival of Rivals.com five-star recruit Dorian Johnson and the big expectations that have come with him has pushed Clemmings even more. Although he's only a freshman and has a long way to go, Johnson was impressive during his first day in pads Thursday and he said that he's expecting to play this season.

If Johnson earns a starting spot, it would be at the expense of Clemmings.

Still, the redshirt junior is simply working to become more comfortable at his new position, focusing on the details and getting ready to contribute along the offensive line.

"I'm really trying to work on it a lot," Clemmings said. "Minor things that make a big difference. I'm trying to work on it everyday, learning the plays and knowing what I'm seeing, thing like that. It's helping me out a lot."





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