Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dallas Clark is Valuable No Matter Where He Lines Up

Dallas Clark had a huge part in Indianapolis' Super Bowl charge. (US Presswire)

October 9, 2007

By Clark Judge

There were two plays I can't forget from Indianapolis' latest victory, and both involved tight end Dallas Clark.

The first was a one-handed stab of a Peyton Manning pass, with Clark taking the ball and dodging traffic en route to the Colts' first touchdown. The second was a front-end collision with Tampa Bay defensive back Tanard Jackson, with the unsuspecting Clark flattened as he stretched for a Manning throw.

The hit was as brutal as it was sudden, and it took Clark minutes to get to his feet. Yet he walked off without help and was in the huddle for the next series.

I mention both incidents because they symbolize what makes Clark one of the most valuable and least appreciated players in the pro football business. He's reliable. He's productive. And he's tough.

I don't know many people who could walk away from the Jackson hit, but Clark did -- and lucky for Indianapolis. Because, next to Manning, Dallas Clark may be the most valuable player on the Colts' offense.

Yeah, I know, they have star receiver Marvin Harrison. But they didn't Sunday. And they didn't for part of their game the preceding weekend. No problem. They had Clark, and he assumed some of Harrison's roles.

They have star receiver Reggie Wayne, too, but he can't play the slot, wide receiver, H-back and both tight end positions. Dallas Clark can, and that's what I love about this guy. He's versatile, he's accomplished and he's everywhere.

That's him lining up shoulder-to-shoulder with right tackle Ryan Diem. No, wait a minute, there he is next to left tackle Tony Ugoh. Hold it, he's in the slot position. Check that, he's out wide. He's in motion. He's wherever you want him to be.

"People can't appreciate how good he is," coach Tony Dungy said. "He's a lot like a great strong safety like Troy Polamalu or Bob Sanders. You can play them deep, or you can have them come to the line of scrimmage and make plays at the point of attack."

The point is: There isn't much Dallas Clark can't do.

Look at the Colts' 38-20 defeat of Denver. They lost Harrison in the second quarter with a bruised knee and were forced to move Clark to his position -- as well as both slot spots -- for some of the subsequent snaps. Result: He finished with a team-high six catches and two touchdowns.

A week later, he was back at all stations, this time hauling down seven receptions and scoring again. The touchdown was significant because of its degree of difficulty: Not only did Clark make a nifty one-handed catch; he stepped out of three tackles to find the end zone.

I marveled at the play, but those who know Clark didn't. They witnessed it too many times.

Remember that clutch third-down pass Manning made on the Colts' game-clinching drive in last season's playoffs against Baltimore? It was Clark who made the catch. Or how about that 52-yard pass play that set up a game-tying field goal against New England in the AFC title game? Uh-huh. Clark again.

"The thing that most people don't know about him," team president Bill Polian said, "is that he loves everything about football. He's one of those guys who loves getting his ankles taped, as Marv (Levy, Buffalo's general manager) would say. Plus, everyone loves him."

I can see why. When Indianapolis first scouted the guy prior to the 2003 Draft, Polian was drawn to him because of his superior pass-catching, route running and ability to make yards after the catch. But his size concerned him. At 6-feet-3, 252, Clark isn't built to be much of a blocker.

"What do you see him as?" he asked offensive coordinator Tom Moore. "Because if we're going to invest a number one pick in him, he's going to have to play a pretty big role."

Moore understood.

"He's a weapon," he told Polian.

And so he is. He's tied for the team lead in touchdowns. He's second in catches. He's second in yards receiving. And he leads the Colts in positions played.

"I think from Day One, when I was a rookie, it was clear they wanted me to play everything but quarterback," Clark said. "And I like that. I just want to be on the football field because I love being out there. I'm probably more comfortable at tight end, next to the offensive line, but they all have their perks."

Especially for the Colts, who continue to march on despite the losses of key offensive performers like Harrison and running back Joseph Addai. Having Peyton Manning on your side certainly doesn't hurt. But having Dallas Clark doesn't, either, and it's high time the country wakes up to what Indianapolis already knows.

Dallas Clark is an invaluable asset, and it’s hard to imagine where Indianapolis would be without him.

"Ever since he was a rookie, he's been something like a utility infielder for us," Polian said. "We'll have a wide receiver down, and we want to go three wides. 'That's OK,' Tom will say, 'We'll just flex Dallas.'

"We'll lose a fullback, and Tom will say, 'That's OK. We'll put Dallas back there.' We like to go two tight ends in our base, which means it's back to Dallas. And if we need to move him, Dallas becomes an H-back.

"Really, he can be whatever we want him to be. That's why he's invaluable."

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