Valley grad Clemons hoping to nail down Steelers roster spot
Toney Clemons, a relatively unheralded seventh-round pick from Colorado, understands he must deliver when given a chance before the Steelers trim their roster.
The Valley High School graduate has to be nothing short of spectacular in practice and exhibition games. There's hardly room to err, considering the depth at receiver — even with Mike Wallace embroiled in a contract dispute.
Although the odds seemingly are against him, Clemons and rookie Marquis Maze are likely to be given ample opportunities against Indianapolis on Sunday to impress offensive coordinator Todd Haley and receivers coach Scottie Montgomery.
Clemons came away without a catch in his first NFL action Thursday at Philadelphia. However, he was solid on special teams.
“It was surreal but at the same time exciting,” Clemons said. “It was competitive and fun, yet a dream come true. It solidified all the hard work I've put in over the years.
“It wasn't like college. It was a much faster pace. It was the highest level of intensity. It was certainly a learning experience.”
Clemons will have to work even harder to earn a roster spot alongside Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. The Steelers have deep threats in Brown and Wallace, possession receivers in Cotchery and tight end Heath Miller.
Clemons is hoping to serve as a complement for a receiving corps still grasping the nuances of a new offense. Yet he's focusing mostly on getting it right on special teams and hoping he'll have more chances to prove he has the hands and speed to compete against the league's best.
“It was on punt coverage where I thought I excelled (at Philadelphia),” Clemons said. “As a special-teams player, fighting that vice is one of the toughest things you're going to do.”
Against the Eagles, Clemons flashed the athleticism that encouraged coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert to make him their first of four seventh-round picks.
Clemons pivoted on his right foot, then uncoiled his body in an attempt to snare an errant pass in the third quarter. He couldn't come down with the catch, but his effort was impressive.
“I think he proved he's got a chance to play in this league,” Sanders said. “As long as he continues to work hard and learn all the little things, he'll put himself in position to take advantage of his chances.”
Clemons was targeted only once against the Eagles. That, of course, isn't good enough for a long-shot rookie.
“The coaches tried putting me in position to make some plays,” he said. “At the same time, you can't control whether the ball is coming to you or not. A lot depended on the coverage (Philadelphia) was playing.
“I'm not sure what it looks like on tape, but I felt as if I ran a pretty good route. The quarterback got some pressure, and he made a smart decision to throw the ball out of bounds to get us another play.”
In breaking down the film, Clemons liked what he saw. Yet he would like for Haley and Montgomery to have more to evaluate his talents.
“It puts a lot or things in perspective,” Clemons said. “There was a lot I was anxious to see on the film because there might be more from live action than practice.
“It gives me a chance to see where I stack up. It also lets me know if I belong on this level and that I can play on this level.”
Clemons has been helped, too, by the Steelers' veteran receivers. They have mentored him throughout training camp in hopes he has what it takes.
“The veteran receivers have really encouraged me,” Clemons said. “They've been breaking down my game as well. It's clear I've got to work on route technique and releases. Actually, just watching them work every day is a one-of-a-kind experience. It's something I'll never take for granted.”
Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7923.