Paul Domowitch: Clayton making his case for Eagles

Posted: August 21, 2012

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Coaches always warn players not to look at the numbers in training camp. Focus on doing your job, they tell them, and don't worry about the numbers.

But that's easier said than done, particularly for a bubble player like Keenan Clayton, who doesn't need a roster or a depth chart to tell him he could find himself out of a job when the Eagles cut down to 53 players on Aug. 31.

Clayton, a 6-1, 230-pound linebacker out of Oklahoma who was the first of the Eagles' three fourth-round picks in the 2010 draft, is listed as the team's No. 3 weakside linebacker behind Brian Rolle and Jamar Chaney.

If the Eagles keep seven linebackers, Clayton probably will make the team. If they keep only six, which was the case in 2 of the last 3 years, it likely will come down to either him or veteran Akeem Jordan for that final spot.

Clayton can help himself with a solid performance in Monday night's preseason game against the Patriots, though with the starters expected to play into the third quarter, he probably won't be on the field a lot.

"The reps I've been getting in practice have been limited," said Clayton. "Having been here for a while, I know that the preseason games are when I'm going to have to show them that I've learned this, that I can this, that I'm capable of doing it.

"In practice, I've got to keep making the most of the reps I get. There are going to be mistakes, but my goal is to not make any mistakes and get better each day."

If the Eagles keep just six linebackers, Jordan, who is the backup to rookie Mychal Kendricks on the strong side, would appear to have the edge over Clayton.

Jordan started seven of the Eagles' last eight games at SAM last season - it would have been eight, but they opened their Nov. 27 game against the Patriots in a nickel package (five defensive backs, just two linebackers) - and was a big reason for the improvement in the run defense the second half of the year.

With Jordan at SAM, the Eagles held opponents to 3.7 yards per carry and 101.1 rushing yards per game over the final 8 weeks. In their first eight games, with, first, Chaney (two games), then Moise Fokou (six games) at SAM, they allowed 5.0 and 124.0.

Clayton's strength is pass coverage. He spent his first 2 years at Oklahoma as a safety before being moved to linebacker. He played 156 snaps last year, mostly as a quasi-safety in one of the Eagles' dime packages (one linebacker, six defensive backs).

With Chaney having been sidelined with a hamstring injury much of the last 2 weeks, Clayton has been getting some additional reps with the second-team defense. Chaney returned to practice on a limited basis late last week. But he probably won't play a lot, if at all, Monday night.

If the Eagles decide to keep only six linebackers, the decision between Clayton or Jordan could come down to which one the coaches think can help them the most on special teams. Both are solid special-teams players. Last year, Jordan finished fourth in special-teams points with 118. Clayton was ninth with 78. Jordan was first in special-teams tackles with 14. Clayton was tied for fifth with nine.

"I'm just working hard each day trying to get better," Clayton said. "Right now, I've got to do what's needed at the position where I'm at whenever I get my reps."

A sports hernia set Clayton back in the spring. He needed surgery and missed most of the spring OTAs and minicamps.

"About a week or 2 before OTAs, I was running, and something just wasn't right," he said. "I ended up going to [trainer] Rick [Burkholder] and getting evaluated and they diagnosed it and I had my surgery."

Clayton attended all of the spring OTAs and camps, but wasn't able to practice. He was able to do a little catching up in July, reporting to training camp early with the rookies and other selected veterans. He got in 3 days of practice before the full squad reported.

During his two seasons with the Eagles, the Oklahoma product has graded out well in games, but has frustrated his coaches with his practice play, which is mainly why he hasn't received more game action.

"At Oklahoma, coach Venables [former Sooners defensive coordinator Brent Venables] told me I had to practice better, and said if I didn't learn how to practice, I wouldn't last long. At first, I was like, 'What do you mean?' I didn't really understand that.

"But ever since [the Eagles coaches] came to me [last season] and told me I have to practice better, I've taken it upon myself to practice better. Just talking to some of the older guys, they told me the faster you practice the slower the game will be.

"I've taken that upon myself this year to make sure I practiced fast and treat it like a game. That way, when the game comes, everything will be second nature, and the game itself will be slower for me."

How, you might ask, could it possibly be difficult for a fourth-round pick to get motivated to practice?

"It's not that I have to find motivation for practice," he said. "It's that I have to stay on myself to keep up in practice. In college, it wasn't like you were fighting for a job. But now, you're fighting for a job each day. So you've got to be ready, got to be prepared, got to stay upbeat in practice. Because you know you might get two or three reps. If you're not upbeat, uptempo, it's going to show on the film."


Contact Paul Domowitch at pdomo@aol.com

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