- Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- In the moments after the most convincing of his five career wins as a starter, St. Louis Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens couldn’t help but take stock of what had transpired on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
After receiver Tavon Austin had enjoyed a breakout game, defensive end Robert Quinn had continued to stamp his leap to the next level, and the Rams had pulled off one of the season’s most surprising results, there was much for Clemens to discuss.
In the middle of it all, Clemens was asked how it felt to get a win as the replacement for injured starter Sam Bradford. He paused for a moment, looked around the room and began discussing a topic that’s become increasingly evident in each of his starts.
“Not every backup quarterback that is forced in a starting role gets the same reception that I’ve gotten from this football team,” Clemens said. “So I’m really blessed to be in the position that I am, because from the offensive line, the wide receivers to the defense, to the coaches, the specialists, everybody has elevated their play since Sam went down and has really supported me. So that’s as good of a situation as you could ask for.”
In evaluating where the Rams were and where they were likely headed in the aftermath of Bradford’s injury, it was hard to look at Clemens’ pedestrian previous numbers and assume anything less than tough sledding for the Rams in the final nine games.
Clemens had a 4-8 record as a starter and a lifetime 51.9 percent completion rate to go with 10 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. None of those numbers should translate to much success, especially for a team still feeling its way through a rebuild.
What those numbers don’t account for is the personality and approach Clemens brings to the table. Intangibles inherently can’t be measured, but it’s pretty clear the Rams have rallied around Clemens.
It’s why Rams coach Jeff Fisher wasted no time naming Clemens the starter and making it clear he was going to stick with Clemens for as long as possible.
“He’s got that kind of personality,” Fisher said. “He’s one of those guys that expects you -- if you’re working or you’re meeting or you’re practicing, to do the best you possibly can. He’s got a subtle way of going about that. He encourages guys. One thing, in the huddle -- the call is made and as the huddle’s breaking, and on the way to the line of scrimmage -- he’s with the young guys out there. He’s always offering reminders -- remember this, this, this, that -- and it makes it a little easier on guys, especially the young guys.”
That might be the most important part of having a player like Clemens handling the quarterback duties for the rest of the season. With Clemens at the helm one of the youngest groups of skill position players in the league, those players have a much better chance of making necessary improvements in the final six games.
Although the Rams are technically still alive in the playoff picture, a picture that’s increasingly fuzzy after each week, the biggest thing they can gain in the final six games is noticeable improvement from their young players.
Clemens’ steady hand greatly increases the chances of that happening, which is why the Rams opted to roll with him in the first place.
“You can talk about physical skills all you want, but this guy knows our players,” general manager Les Snead said. “He knows our scheme and he can teach it to our players backwards and forwards. He knows their strengths and weaknesses, and he’s helped their weaknesses. So having that continuity is huge.”
In three starts since taking over for Bradford, Clemens’ numbers have fallen right in line with most of his career. He’s thrown for 634 yards and three touchdowns, with two interceptions a completion percentage of 53.5 for a passer rating of 79.3.
As expected, Clemens has showed the knack for extending plays with his legs and making something happen when a play might seem dead on arrival. He’s also had some costly turnovers.
The performance against Indianapolis was probably the best you could ever expect of Clemens, who managed the game, but made big plays when the opportunities presented themselves. He added the bonus of taking care of the ball for the most part, depending on where you want to pin blame on a botched handoff in the red zone.
That effort might also represent a sign that Clemens is getting more comfortable with each start. It’s unrealistic to expect him to post a quarterback rating of 140.6 like he did against the Colts from week to week, but a potent running game combined with more consistent defensive performances can ease the load on Clemens and still give the Rams a chance to win.
In the meantime, Clemens presents the rare backup option who can actively make his teammates better while they’re working to win on his behalf.
“That means a lot,” Clemens said. “There’s no question about that. It means a lot to have (Fisher) believe in me, and I think that this locker room believes in me. So, that certainly makes the transition easier for a guy in my position.”
11hEric D. Williams