Aug 252010

Eagles rookie LB Keenan Clayton

August 24 Philadelphia Inquirer

“The lights were on, and once again Keenan Clayton shined.

Getting his chance against the Bengals’ backups Friday, Clayton, a rookie linebacker drafted in the fourth round, intercepted a screen pass from quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan, ending a drive that had advanced into Eagles territory.

Coaches were happy, of course, but also left to wonder: Where was that guy at Lehigh?

They won’t say it so bluntly in public, but coaches were frustrated with Clayton’s effort in practices.

At training camp, drills were often punctuated by the sound of linebackers coach Bill Shuey calling out “Keenan!” and adding extra instruction for the rookie.

Then came the Eagles‘ first preseason game, against the Jaguars, and this stat line: four tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, and two hits on the opposing quarterback, against Jaguars’ reserves.

Clayton followed up that performance Friday with a tackle, a pass break-up, a special-teams tackle, and his third-quarter interception.

“He’s made some big plays in the two games that we’ve had to this point. So, that’s certainly a plus. On the other side of it, there needs to be consistency day in and day out and each and every practice,” said defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.

Clayton did not argue that point. Even in college at Oklahoma, he said, his teammates and coaches questioned his practice effort. The speedy linebacker – he posted one of the fastest 40-yard dash times at the NFL’s rookie combine – got by with strong play on game days.

“My coach in college always used to tell me that I wouldn’t make it long because I didn’t know how to practice,” Clayton said. “Now that I look back at the conversation and see what he was getting at . . . you’ve got to practice like you play.”

It’s something Clayton conceded he is still working on, just as he is still trying to carve out a role on this team.

“If Coach was to just look at the practice tape [and not game film], he’d probably be like, ‘What is this guy doing?’ Sometimes after practice, a lot of times after practice, I feel that way, too,” Clayton said.

After playing safety early in college, and then switching positions, the Eagles drafted him as a strong-side linebacker. Clayton tried to add some weight to bulk up his 6-foot-1, 229-pound frame for the job, which often involves taking on a tight end, but was sheepish when asked about whether that worked.”

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