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Pitt offensive tackle Clemmings is drawing long looks from NFL

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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Pitt's T.J. Clemmings plays against Duke on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014, at Heinz Field.

Jim Hueber might be the toughest, least-forgiving coach on Pitt’s staff, but he will often lighten the mood for his players.

Not long ago, Hueber and his offensive linemen were watching video from 2012 when a clip from senior offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings’ days as a defensive end appeared on the screen.

“Turnley (Ryan, graduate assistant and former center) took a couple shots at him,” Hueber said, smiling. “You get moved to offense, if you make mistakes on defense. You keep making mistakes on offense, you wind up over here selling popcorn.”

Or, in Clemmings’ case, you work hard, learn your new craft and end up coveted by the NFL as one of the top tackles available in next year’s draft.

Clemmings certainly has the body for it. At 6-foot-6, 315 pounds, he has the intimidating look of a defender on the offensive side of the football.

But it’s not just the look.

Hueber knows what it takes to play offensive line in the NFL — he was on the Minnesota Vikings’ staff from 2006-2010 — and he believes Clemmings and senior right guard Matt Rotheram can handle it.

“I know attitude-wise and the way they approach practice and the way they approach meetings, I would have liked to have had them (in Minnesota),” he said.

During the Virginia Tech game, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay used Twitter to begin pumping Clemmings as a potential high draft pick.

“Pitt’s OT TJ Clemmings most improved player in 1-yr I’ve ever seen. Former DL thrust into OT role in 2013. Now plays like a 1-2 rd pick.”

An admittedly early mock draft from CBSSports.com projects Clemmings going to the Denver Broncos with the 30th pick in the first round.

Before the season, NFL Draftscout.com analyst Derek Stephens put a first- or second-round grade on Clemmings.

He wrote: “Clemmings demonstrates fluidity, quickness and athleticism that are ideal for a next-level tackle, though he looks more the part of a left tackle prospect than a right tackle considering his finesse style and leaner frame.”

Stephens also praised Clemmings for his “ability to pick things up quickly.”

Pitt coach Paul Chryst first planted the seed with Clemmings about moving to offense when they met coming off the field after the last game of the 2012 regular season at South Florida.

“His uniform wasn’t dirty,” Chryst said. “I said, ‘You should think about it.’ ”

He said, ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever I can for this team.’ ”

Almost immediately, Clemmings made the switch, practicing with the offense for the first time while Pitt prepared for that season’s bowl game. He has started every game since then, struggling at times, but losing none of his passion for improvement.

“Any little way, I can learn something else or maybe do something differently to help myself improve as a player, I’m going to find ways to do it,” he said.

Clemmings’ hard work has paid dividends.

“Less and less things surprise him. Less and less things creep up on him that he wouldn’t have handled as well last year,” Hueber said. “He sees the game a lot better.”

Hueber is demanding of his players and often makes examples of them in front of teammates, but Clemmings credits his coach for pushing him to the next level of success.

“That’s just the way he is,” Clemmings said, “and we are getting results.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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