Friday, August 03, 2007

Dallas Clark is Cool in the Clutch

August 3, 2007

During the '06 season, Dallas Clark wasn't the Colts' go-to receiver, but in the playoffs he became an MVP

By Mike Chappell

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- Five tight ends led their NFL teams in receptions in 2006. Not one answered to the name Dallas Clark.

It's a distinction the Indianapolis Colts veteran likely will never attain.

"In this offense, that's never going to happen unless Marvin and Reg take a leave of absence for 16 games," Clark said during a recent break in training camp at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. "And I'll still probably get 40 balls."

Clark knows his role in the Colts' diverse offense is more complementary than as a weekly go-to guy for his camp roommate, quarterback Peyton Manning. The tight end generally gets what's left over from Pro Bowl receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.

But anyone who downplays Clark's value hasn't been paying attention.

"He was the most valuable player of our postseason run," Manning said.

Clark contributed 21 catches during the four-game drive to the Super Bowl championship -- second most in the postseason to teammate Joseph Addai's 22 -- and a league-high 317 yards. Fifteen of Clark's receptions produced first downs, including a critical third-and-5 conversion with less than 4 minutes left in the AFC Divisional game at Baltimore.

"Probably the third-down conversion of the year," Manning said
of Clark's sliding 14-yard reception that led to Adam Vinatieri's fifth field goal, a 35-yarder that sealed a 15-6 victory.

In the AFC title game the following week, Clark had six catches for a career-high 137 yards. That included three catches for 100 yards in the second half, in which the Colts scored 32 points to come from 15 points behind and beat New England 38-34.

"He was like a possessed man running down the field, play in and play out, creating huge plays for us in that comeback," Manning said.

And to think, it all almost didn't happen. After Clark sprained a knee ligament Nov. 26 against Philadelphia, the Colts made a last-minute decision not to place him on the injured-reserve list, allowing him to heal without surgery.

Clark, 28 and entering his fifth season, will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. He insists that "however they want to use me, I'm open. Blocking, pass catching, whatever."

Still, he has wondered what it would be like to be more of a focal point.

His 30 catches in the 2006 regular season ranked sixth on the team. Tight ends who led their teams were Tony Gonzalez (Kansas City), Jeremy Shockey (N.Y. Giants), Antonio Gates (San Diego), Todd Heap (Baltimore) and Kellen Winslow (Cleveland).

"If he was in an offense where they really featured him and just made every effort to get the ball to the tight end, he could certainly do that," Colts coach Tony Dungy said.

Instead, Clark waits for his opportunity. When a defense focuses too much on Harrison and Wayne on the outside, Clark will gouge them down the middle. He's a match-up nightmare, whether he's working out of the slot or releasing from the line of scrimmage.

"We know what he's capable of," Dungy said. "I don't foresee an 80-catch season, but I do foresee some of those games where (defenses) really are determined to take away the outside guys where he could have a 10-, 11-, 12-catch day."

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