Keenan Clayton just waited his turn. Around here, if youre a linebacker and you wait your turn, eventually youll get your turn.
Clayton has played almost exclusively on special teams since the Eagles drafted him in the fourth round out of Oklahoma last year. On Sunday, finally, hes expected to get his first extended chance to play on defense.
Clayton said hes been promoted to first nickel and will be one of two linebackers on the field in clear passing downs when the Eagles face the Giants at the Meadowlands in a prime-time, national TV game.
Its kind of what I expected myself to be doing from the jump, Clayton said. But I had to work my way into it, and now theyre giving me a shot at it, and now its time for me to make some plays and not get off the field.
Clayton was a safety at Oklahoma and a good one. The Eagles could use a healthy does of speed and athleticism at linebacker, and Clayton has it. Hes also got himself up to about 230 pounds over the past two years after playing in college at about 215.
His strength is in pass coverage, and the Eagle are hoping he can contribute Sunday night against the Giants fifth-ranked pass offense.
The Eagles, 3-6, must beat the 6-3 Giants to have any hope of salvaging anything out of what looks like a lost season.
Im real excited, Clayton said after practice Thursday. It probably wont hit me until Sunday, but then again, I cant get overwhelmed, because Ill be messing up and everything, so just taking it a day at a time right now and doing what I have to do at practice to get ready.
I feel ready. Each week I prepare like Im starting because you never know, anything can happen someone can get hurt, someone might need a break, anything so the preparation is no different from any other week.
Clayton has only played in 15 games over the past two years and was inactive as recently as the Washington and Dallas wins. But he did play well late last year and even got some important reps in the wild-card loss to the Packers. Hes apparently shown enough on special teams to convince the coaches to give him a shot in this ever-changing linebacker lineup.
"Its like having a safety out there at linebacker, real athletic but a safety thats a linebacker," said Jamar Chaney, who will be the other linebacker in nickel. "He has a lot of experience. Anytime you start a playoff game at nickel, thats pretty good experience against a really good team in the Packers.
"Hes a real good competitor. He loves a challenge. He likes to stop tight ends and running backs. He doesnt think anyone can catch a pass on him. You ask him to go out there and cover a teams best receiver, hell probably try and hell think hell win too. Thats the type of guy he is."
A lot of observers thought Clayton would be starting by now. What took so long for him to even get into the rotation?
I cant point fingers, I just point fingers at myself, he said. Maybe I wasnt preparing right, maybe they didnt feel like I was mentally ready, maybe I wasnt showing what they needed to see for me to get on the field and play defense. I dont know. Maybe theyve seen a change in my play, my practice, and decided to give me a shot.
Nobody wants to come in and not play. From the time they gave me the phone call (on draft day last year), my first mind set was, Im ready to go out and play.
Clayton will replace rookie Brian Rolle in the Eagles nickel package. Hell be out there with Jamar Chaney, the only linebacker who stays on the field on all downs.
Clayton said Rolle will remain in the Buffalo package, which the Eagles use in goal-line and short-yardage.
I think its more for me on passing downs, him on run downs, Clayton said. Third and short, hell be in. Third and long, when we know theyre going to throw the ball, they just probably like my matchup with certain guys better than than do him.
E-mail Reuben Frank at email@example.com