Since the NFL Draft was cut down to seven rounds back in 1994 the Pittsburgh Steelers have drafted five receivers in the final round of selections. The latest of that group taken this past April with the 231st pick overall was wide out Toney Clemons from the University of Colorado, who is a native ofthe city of Pittsburgh.
The reality of making the National Football League is one uphill battle after the next for any rookie especially when you are taken near the end of the draft. "Gives me the incentive to come out and work and come out and compete," says Clemons with beads of sweat rushing off his forehead after the fourth day of OTAís.
Those four other receivers taken in the seventh round Dallas Baker, Chris Taylor, Michael Adams and Henry Bailey all combined to catch two passes for 45 for the Pittsburgh Steelers. With only Baker and Adams making the team and dressing for 14 games that were all played in their rookie season. The future might not be as bleak as those past numbers suggest because the Steelers are currently in the market for another receiver. Assuming that veteran Mike Wallace returns and with Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery already in camp that leaves the team with four receivers locked in for 2012. Last year the Steelers carried six receivers on the team taking into consideration Arnaz Battle who played primarily on special teams for the club so the possibility for two additional players to be kept from the current crop of receivers is a real possibility.
Clemons isnít looking to put the cart before the horse knowing that to make the squad he is going to have to earn his stripes on special teams. "I put most of my concentration into special teams," reasoned Clemons adding "I know that is how you make the team first and the fastest way on the field, I kind of come in with a special teamís mindset." That mindset is good to have because players like Yancy Thigpen and Hines Ward carved out fine careers taking that same path before becoming integral parts of the offense.
Since OTAís have begun Clemons has made several catches in traffic that have impressed veterans like Ryan Clark who shouted out after one play "nice catch 11 you know how to catch the ball." Clark might be as surprised as I was to hear Clemons admit that at one point in his college career he struggled catching the ball before getting that problem solved. The proof of solving those drops was in 2011 when he was named as the co-recipient (with QB Tyler Hansen) of Coloradoís John Mack Award given to the teamís most outstanding offensive player. In his final season with the Buffaloís he led the team in both receiving yards (680) and touchdowns ( 8 ) while finishing second on the team in receptions (43). Peaking at the right time he had his first three 100 yard games in three of his five final collegiate games is one reason he was invited to the Players' All-Star Classic that included some of the top seniors in the nation.
The Steelers current group of receivers can be called many positive things but tall, rangy targets likely isnít one of them and Clemons at 6í2 and 210-pounds would give the Steelers a bigger receiving target over the middle. The team tried going big in 2008 by drafting Limas Sweed who never panned out after Plaxico Burress left via free-agency back in 2005. General Manager Kevin Colbert said of Clemons "A lot of times you see big guys, you see sometimes they are big, strong guys and they aren't the fastest or most fluid. This kid can make some small-man catches, and some small-man runs after the catches."
Building off that momentum from college, Clemons now finds himself in his hometown on the Southside of the city hearing Steelers receiver coach Scottie Montgomery correct him on the nuances of playing wide out in the National Football League. "Iím finding out fast that for everything I do right I do two things wrong in a play," says Clemons. One particular instance during drills Clemons made ran a decent pattern, caught the ball but wasnít detailed enough coming out of his split and he would quickly hear the voice of Coach Montgomery yelling he was going to fine him a thousand dollars after every time he didnít do his splits right. "Thatís a thousand dollars I donít have," smiled Clemons "so I got to get into my splits."
The rookie takes pride in his route running but said once he got to OTAís he realized "I got up here and found out that Iím not that good a route runner. So I better learn from the vets and the coaches fast and learn how to run routes like the pros do. Itís definitely something Iím turning into strength."
Turning that raw ability into strength has been aided by the help of the veteran receivers of the Pittsburgh Steelers. "Jerricho (Cotchery) has been huge since I came in. He gives me all kinds of tips and ways to learn the plays and concepts.
"All those guys from Emmanuel (Sanders), AB (Antonio Brown) to Jerricho. AB takes me through the routes and how you want everything to look the same every day and every route out," says Clemons.
The Pittsburgh nativeís mission will nowbe to impress the Steelers enough to earn that fifth or sixth roster spot will all summer to prove his worth and make good on his seventh round selection.