Friday, August 12, 2011

Clark’s pain in past

Tight end Dallas Clark stretches before Colts practice at Macholtz Stadium during Colts Camp at Anderson University on Wednesday.

Tight end coming back strong from wrist injury.

By George Bremer

August 11, 2011

ANDERSON, Ind. — Colts tight end Dallas Clark glanced at his left wrist, imagining the brace he wears during all contact drills at Anderson University.

It’s a constant reminder of one of the worst moments of his nine-year NFL career.

He suffered a freak injury on Oct. 17 last season against the Washington Redskins. Five days later, Indianapolis placed him on injured reserve — ending his season.

Clark, who made the Pro Bowl for the first time a year earlier, had 37 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns in just six games.

Even Wednesday morning, some 10 months after the injury, pain was evident in his voice as he tried to put into words how it felt to watch from the sideline as his teammates made another playoff run.

“Miserable,” Clark said. “I can’t even explain it. It’s the toughest part about this sport, I feel, dealing with injuries. You’re out there and giving everything you’ve got for the team, and one play you’re done for the year. It’s tough, but it happens. It’s part of the game. It’s not a shocker or anything like that. But it doesn’t make it easier.”

Don’t get the wrong idea.

Clark isn’t wallowing in self-pity.

He said he was inspired watching his teammates rally to win the AFC South championship and earn the conference’s No. 3 playoff seed.

But it was tough watching the 17-16 loss against the New York Jets in the wild-card game and knowing he might have been able to make a difference.

“It’s something you go through, you experience, and you either get better from it or you let it eat at you and just kind of break you down mentally,” Clark said. “It’s tough. But it’s great to see the team go out there and play well and make the playoffs and give it a great run with all the injuries that they had. I’m just really proud of how everything turned out.”

He’s even more proud of how his 2011 training camp has begun.

All the pain associated with last year’s memories vanishes the moment Clark is asked about stepping back on the field for Saturday’s preseason opener at St. Louis.

“I might actually be nervous, I don’t know,” he said with a sheepish grin. “It’ll be weird. It’s been so long, it feels like anyway. I’ll be excited to get out there. I know it’s only preseason so gotta kind of keep the excitement at a minimum. You know, it’s hard to get excited for a couple series. But I’ll enjoy the heck out of those.”

According to head coach Jim Caldwell, Clark enjoys the heck out of just about everything he does on a football field.

“Dallas is an unusual guy,” Caldwell said. “He loves football. I’m not certain that you will find anyone anymore infatuated with the game than he is. He exudes it. He walks out on the field, he has a great time, he loves practice and does a tremendous job. It’s infectious.”

It’s also been a highly successful approach.

The next time Clark hauls in a touchdown pass from Peyton Manning during a regular season game, the duo will tie former New England Patriots Drew Bledsoe and Ben Coates for the most scoring passes (45) from a quarterback to a tight end in NFL history.

Clark already owns Colts single-season records for receptions (100 in 2009), yards (1,106 in 2009) and touchdowns (11 in 2007) by a tight end. The previous owner of all three marks, John Mackey, has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame since 1992.

In his most recent healthy season, 2009, Clark caught 100 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns. And the Colts advanced to the Super Bowl.

So it’s worth noting when Clark says the brace on his wrist hasn’t slowed him down on the field at all.

Doctors have said he’ll need to wear the brace all season. Clark isn’t as certain.

“It’s not inhibiting (me) from doing what I need to do,” he said. “It just looks stupid. But, other than that, it does its job. It gives me just a little more protection. I’ll probably wear it all year. We’ll see what happens, take it week-by-week.”

As long as he continues to feel as good as he has so far at AU, Clark isn’t likely to complain about the brace or anything else.

He’s back where he belongs.

On the football field.

“I’m trying not to jinx myself or think about it too much,” he said. “I’m seriously trying to take it day-by-day and just kind of cross whatever bridge that comes. ... But it feels great. So I’m really excited.”

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