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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Clark playing 'huge' for Colts



By Gary Mihoces
January 25, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS — Though the Indianapolis Colts have a set of Pro Bowl wide receivers in Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, quarterback Peyton Manning's prime target this postseason has been a tight end who loves the feel of a wide open passing lane.

"It's very joyful for me, and I really like that better than just blocking all day," says Dallas Clark, in his fourth NFL season from the University of Iowa.

"Getting out is kind of like a lineman picking up a fumble and being able to actually touch the ball. Wow! … It's the same enjoyment being out there running with Marv and Reggie."

In three playoff games, Clark has 17 catches for 281 yards and an average of 16.5 yards per reception — all team highs.

In last Sunday's AFC title-game victory against the New England Patriots, he led the Colts with six catches for 137 yards, including a fourth-quarter play of 52 yards.

"Dallas was huge," said Colts coach Tony Dungy, who said the Patriots defense was set to take away the outside receivers.

At 6-foot-3, the hard-bodied Clark actually is not as hefty as the 252 pounds listed by the Colts.

"That's generous. Maybe 240," says Dungy. "He's not what you'd call a prototypical tight end, not a big guy. But he blocks very well. ... He's done a great job for us, and we look for the guy that can get down the middle of the field and catch the ball deep. So we're probably never going to have the 260-pound tight ends a lot of people have."

Clark, a first-round draft pick in 2003, has become particularly important this season because of injuries to slot receivers Brandon Stokley (knee) and Ricky Proehl (hamstring). On some plays, Clark is a virtual wide receiver from the slot, inside the wide receiver.

"It's very enjoyable because if they asked me to do anything else I probably wouldn't have a job," says Clark. "If they asked me to down block on D-ends all day like some teams … I can't do that very well.

"But as much as they let me run and catch balls and block here and there, block out in the slot, I love it."

Said Dungy: "We can have him in the lineup and play a three-wide receiver type game or we can play a two-tight end game. He can catch the ball and block at the point of attack. He helps us tremendously."

In the regular season, Clark had 30 catches for 367 yards and four touchdowns. The Colts other tight end, 6-6, 251-pound Ben Utecht, had 37 catches for 377 yards and no touchdowns.

In December, Clark missed four games with what the Colts initially feared was a torn knee ligament (ACL). "I went out on the field and they told me it looked like an ACL, and we were ready to put him on IR the next Tuesday," says Dungy.

Upon further medical review, it was deemed a sprain. No surgery was required. Clark returned for the final regular season game.

In the playoff opener against Kansas City, he had nine catches for 103 yards. He says the layoff left him feeling "fresher" in the postseason.

"When you take a vacation from your job, you come back and you just have that extra bounce in your step," he says. "I had a four-week layoff so (I) was just able to get refreshed and come back. … I didn't think I was going to be able to come back this year. I enjoyed it a little more because I realized how quickly it can be taken away from you."

Going into the Super Bowl, he is flattered to be described as a virtual wide receiver.

"Absolutely, especially with the guys I have around me," he says. "Just to be even thought of or mentioned is awesome. … Those guys are very, very, very good, and to be with those guys every day is definitely making me a better player."

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