Clemens answered the call anyway and was surprised by who was on the other end. It was Mark Sanchez, the fifth overall draft pick who will compete with Clemens for the starting job.
"It meant a lot," Clemens recalled during team workouts Thursday. "That's a really classy thing for that kid to do. We had a 5- or 10-minute conversation. That's our only correspondence so far, but talk about getting a competitive relationship off on the right foot. That was a neat thing that he did."
Clemens was considered the favorite to be the starting quarterback until the Jets traded up from No. 17 to No. 5 and took Sanchez, a player they believe is the future of the franchise. While that might indeed be the case, after backing up Brett Favre last season and Chad Pennington before that, Clemens believes his own future is now.
"I'm going out this year, and my expectations haven't changed since the draft," Clemens said. "I fully expect to be under center opening day when we go down to Houston."
For that to happen, Clemens likely will have to completely outplay Sanchez in camp.
"That's everything you can ask for, to have a chance to come in and be competing for a starting spot on a team that, when you look around, is not a team that's rebuilding," Clemens said. "I mean, we've got some talent. This is a great opportunity, regardless of who I'm competing against."
If the competition between Clemens and Sanchez is close, Jets coach Rex Ryan already has made it clear that he wouldn't have a problem sending out a rookie to start the season. Ryan saw it work last season when he was in Baltimore, and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco led the Ravens to the AFC Championship Game.
"There's some weight that goes along with being the No. 5 overall pick. Everybody knows that," Clemens said. "I go back to what coach has said, and I think he has said it publicly, that it's an open competition and the best player's going to play, regardless of all the other business sides of things. That's all I'm hoping for, and that's all I've ever asked for."
Clemens was a second-round draft pick by the Jets in 2006 and sat behind Pennington as a rookie. Clemens got his chance to play the following season when Pennington was ineffective, but he also struggled behind a patchwork offensive line while throwing 10 interceptions and five touchdowns.
Clemens entered last summer in an open competition with Pennington -- and then Favre came to town in a trade with the Green Bay Packers. Clemens threw five passes the entire season and now enters a situation in which some believe he has no chance of winning.
"For me, it comes down to a simple choice: I can either get mad or get frustrated or whatever, or I can get better," Clemens said. "I'm choosing to get better."
Entering the final year of his four-year contract with the Jets, Clemens has leaned on his faith to help him make it through the trying times.
"That's been the best thing for me, just from a faith standpoint. This whole thing has probably boosted my life from that standpoint," Clemens said, "just because if I didn't, it would probably drive me crazy."
Meanwhile, Clemens has been sure to say all the right things about Sanchez, calling him a "great dude" and a "very talented quarterback." As for that draft-day phone call, Clemens said he welcomed Sanchez to the team.
"I think it'll be a good working relationship between both he and I," Clemens said. "I'm going to try to be as helpful to him as Chad was to me. It'll be good."
The two quarterbacks had met previously because they share the same agent, David Dunn. That could be a potentially sticky situation when Dunn is negotiating Sanchez's contract, playing one client against the other.
"I feel very comfortable with him, and obviously, Mark does as well," Clemens said. "They're going to handle their business between those two, and Dave and I will handle the business between he and I. I'm confident there won't be any conflicts in interest for us."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press