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Rams hand the reins to Clemens

10/23/2013
Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens knows the fans aren't excited for their former backup to be the starter. AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

EARTH CITY, Mo. – St. Louis Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens knows the drill.

After spending most of his seven-plus years in the league as a backup, Clemens is well aware of his standing and how those on the outside view him. He makes no bones about the fact that nobody wants to see the backup because it means the normal starter is unavailable.

“That’s your role as the backup,” Clemens said. “You’re the emergency plan that nobody really hopes gets used but that’s the situation that we’re in.”

With starting quarterback Sam Bradford out for the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Clemens is the team’s starter until notified otherwise.

In the three days or so since Bradford suffered the injury, the Rams have made it clear they are doing all they can to support Clemens. Of course, that’s what they’re supposed to do. There’s no other choice. But it’s something Clemens appreciates in his transition back to a starting role.

Much has changed since Clemens last started a game -- he started three after joining the Rams in 2011 -- but when Clemens opens the game on Monday night, it’ll mark his 13th start in an NFL uniform.

“It’s a different football team, different set of opponents, different everything,” Clemens said. “I am excited for the opportunity. It’s a great group of guys in this locker room. They’ve all been very supportive of me over the last whatever it’s been, 24 hours or something.”

Ironically, Clemens’ first game with the Rams was in 2011 against Seattle in a "Monday Night Football" contest. He didn’t play but went on to start the next three while Bradford sat out with a high-ankle sprain.

Those three games represent something of a microcosm of Clemens’ career. He posted 546 passing yards with two touchdowns and an interception and scrambled for 37 yards and a touchdown on six carries. But, he completed only 52.7 percent of his passes, was sacked nine times and fumbled as the Rams went 0-3.

Mixed in with those struggles were flashes of some play-making ability that stems from Clemens’ ability to extend plays with his legs.

Clemens also has a reputation as a hard-working pro who has the respect of his teammates and coaching staff. He also has an intimate knowledge of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense from their time together in New York and now St. Louis.

“Kellen is great in the building,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “He prepares himself, he has a really good understanding of this offense and he’s kind of a gun slinger. He’s going to run around and just make plays. He’s a tough guy and he’s a great teammate.”

Clemens, however, isn’t a quarterback capable of taking over games and he lacks consistency. For his career, he has a quarterback rating of 62.2 with a completion percentage of 51.8, seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

This week, Clemens will have his share of challenges in getting ready to play Seattle, including getting acquainted with some receivers and tight ends he hasn’t worked with much.

In a normal week as the backup, most of Clemens’ reps come with the scout team and when he does get opportunities to play with the offense, he said he normally gets a hand off or two and that’s about it.

Clemens also will be facing the second-ranked defense in the NFL in total yards allowed and second in pass defense.

The Rams and Clemens are well aware of the challenge that awaits not only this week, but for the rest of the season.

“The fort is going to have to be held for quite a while,” Clemens said. “I have a lot of faith in my own abilities to play the position. I’ve worked really hard for the last several years and I’ve got some experience. This won’t be my first game, so I’m excited for the opportunity.”