Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Where's the Colts' Clark?

September 13, 2006

by Reggie Hayes

INDIANAPOLIS -- Dallas Clark's unofficial audition for the NFL's version of "Where's Waldo?" looks like it's off to a great start.

Whenever the Indianapolis Colts' offense lines up, Clark will be in the picture. The trick is to find him.

He's listed as a tight end, and that's a good place to start. But he sometimes lines up in the slot, sometimes at wide receiver and, in a relative new twist, as a blocking halfback.

"I'll do whatever; just don't ask me to be the quarterback," Clark said. "He's got a hard job."

While the world was contemplating the brotherly battle of Manning vs. Manning during the Colts' season opening win Sunday over the New York Giants, Clark was jumping from here to there and back again. He even ended up in one of his favorite spots -- the end zone -- on the receiving end of a Peyton Manning strike.

"I just try to be accountable and dependable and let them know they can count on me," Clark said. "When my number's called, I try to do something with it. If I get more pass calls, whatever, it's no different really. You just have to go out and execute."

Many of the questions from reporters on Wednesday at the Colts complex concerned the running game. The Colts' first game without Edgerrin James produced low to moderate numbers, with Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai combining for 55 yards and a 2.4 yards per carry average. Addai showed some promising outside speed and Rhodes dived in for a touchdown, a short-yardage score that sometimes tripped up the Colts in the past. Most observers couldn't get past the absence of Edge.

But the Colts' offense showed glimpses of some new formations and the use of different players in different places -- including tackle Darrell Reid lining up as a fullback and tackling Charlie Johnson going out for a pass -- as it strives to remain fresh and unpredictable.

The most versatile player is Clark, who caught three passes for 39 yards in the win, including Manning's only touchdown pass. On that play, Clark lined up at tight end on the right side, and then displayed a great sense of position and focus. Manning rolled out right and fired. Clark leaped high on the right side of the end zone, catching the pass and touching both feet down in the end zone before landing and falling backwards.

"It was good," Clark said. "Anything to help out."

Clark's aw-shucks demeanor wins him plenty of friends in the locker room. As you might guess by his appreciation of Manning's role ("He's got a hard job"), Clark knows he's not a superstar on the level of Manning, receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne or defensive end Dwight Freeney. But, if Clark performs well, he'll be invaluable to an offense that might need a few unexpected plays while waiting for the running game to develop.

It's instructive to note that when Manning was discussing the play-action pass and how it works, the three receivers he mentioned were Harrison, Wayne and Clark. It's a good sign for a tight end when a quarterback categorizes him as one of his primary targets.

Colts coach Tony Dungy said he's pleased with the development of all three of his regular tight ends: Clark, Ben Utecht and Bryan Fletcher. Clark is in his fourth season with the Colts.

"Dallas is really developing as an all-around player and a point-of-attack blocker as well,' Dungy said. "But, he's the guy that we play out in the slot the most."

Clark's size and demeanor make him perfect for passes into linebacker territory. He's 6-foot-3, 252 pounds, solid and fearless. He fills a role out of the slot that was the former main domain of Brandon Stokley, who has been out with an ankle injury. Even last year, with Stokley healthy, Clark sometimes was the choice for the slot.

His new responsibilities as an occasional blocking back make him a potential threat to catch passes out of the backfield, too.

"We have some different looks and we can give some certain looks we like," Clark said. "That keeps them guessing which way we're running the ball and who's running the ball. We're doing a lot of new things and it's a good dynamic for the offense and for the running game."

Clark enjoys the new plays and positions in his repertoire, but says his potentially increased role isn't the result of any physical transformation.

"I still have the same five gears," he said.

That's five gears for at least four positions.

Where's Dallas? Everywhere and anywhere. The Colts just hope he continues to turn up in the end zone.

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