It took a minute for the face to register with Eagles running back Corey Clement as he looked through the shimmering heat waves that rose from the practice field on Monday, but, sure enough, that was Anthony Averett lining up at cornerback for the Baltimore Ravens.
“I forgot he was over there,” Clement said. “Whenever you see South Jersey, you know you’ve got to lace ‘em up.”
The last two times Clement had laced them up against Averett didn’t go that well, but Monday’s controlled scrimmage with the Ravens turned out to be a pretty good day for the back who is recovering from a knee injury.
As high school seniors in 2012, Averett’s Woodbury High School team beat the Glassboro High School team of Clement in a South Jersey Group 1 semifinal game. Their next meeting was the 2015 college season, when Alabama and Averett, on its way to a national championship, opened with a convincing win over Wisconsin and Clement.
“I don’t count when 'Bama played Wisconsin, so we’ve got a fresh slate,” Clement said. “He can keep those national championships. We got the Super Bowl. But as long as he’s in the league, I’ve got to keep fighting against him.”
Clement said that after practice, with Averett standing nearby and laughing. It was easy to laugh after finally getting off the sweltering field following the nearly two-hour practice.
“That was pretty brutal,” Clement said. “Of course, he’s used to it from Alabama.”
“Yeah, that wasn’t bad,” Averett said, and then they laughed again.
Clement had a right to feel good about things Monday. He has yet to take part in a preseason game, but he was given a significant portion of the plays with the No. 1 offense for the first time this preseason. He looked crisp and fast and perhaps likely to get some action in the Thursday exhibition between the teams.
“I may get my chance to get my toes wet in this game and I’m pretty excited,” Clement said. “And going up today against my dog is always fun. Any good practice is good for reassurance of a player. Getting the chance to burst through the hole and hit the defense, get some contact on my end, it’s good to set the tone. I feel great. I feel 100 percent. I feel locked in, and I’m ready for it.”
Clement is in his third season with the Eagles, but he suffered a knee injury in December that kept him out the final three regular-season games and both postseason games. He was having a good, but not great, season before the injury and had also been limited in practice earlier in the season by a quadriceps injury.
The injury was a “knee sprain,” according to Clement, and it’s unknown whether surgery was required to repair it, but Clement says it is all behind him now, especially the doubt that might have lingered in his mind.
“My trial and error came during the rehab process,” Clement said. “[It] was on the mental side of things. Now I am able to absorb the contact and give the contact. … I’m in a good spot now.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Groh has been impressed by Clement’s progress, but he isn’t ready to declare him ready yet.
“Well, he’s cleared, but he hasn’t played a whole lot. I wouldn’t say he’s where he needs to be because he just needs to get more time out here,” Groh said. “We’re trying to accelerate that process here with two weeks to go. Trying to catch him up, if that’s fair to say.”
Clement’s roster spot is actually a little tenuous depending on how it goes the rest of the preseason. The Eagles added Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard since last season, and brought back Darren Sproles. Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams, Donnel Pumphrey, and Boston Scott are the other running backs on the roster, each of them fighting for one of the remaining two or possibly three spots.
Clement is versatile on special teams – he has returned both kickoffs and punts – and has a better track record than most of the others, but he’ll still have to show it on the field. He is still the guy who took the most famous direct snap in Super Bowl history, but the other two skill players from the “Philly Special” are already gone, and beloved replays aren’t enough to keep anyone around.
That’s why getting to show something Thursday would be big for Clement. The Eagles have been decidedly cautious with all the players returning from injury, but this might be his final chance to get out there in the preseason.
“Today was pretty cool,” Clement said after practice, “but when the lights come on, everybody’s going to be chirping. That’s just part of the game.”