You’re Chris Clark. You’re 27 years old, and you may have trouble sleeping Sunday night.
You’re starting your first game at left tackle this weekend. Your only significant regular-season game experience to this point is as a jumbo tight end in 2011, when Tim Tebow ran the offense. Now your job is to protect Peyton Manning’s blind side.
You’ll be playing on Monday night. You entered the league as an undrafted free agent, you’ve been cut three times, and your debut comes on Monday Night Football.
You’ll be going up against a pass rusher, Oakland’s Lamarr Houston, who leads all NFL pass rushers through two weeks in quarterback pressures. He has 16, in eight quarters. He’s very good at stunting, which means you not only have to block Houston, but when he stunts, you have to be able to communicate with your guard about who’s blocking whom. Not easy when it’s your first game starting at left tackle.
You’ll be taking over for the consensus best left tackle in football, Ryan Clady. He’s out for the season after rupturing a foot ligament last week. Which means it’s all you now. The last line of defense, expected to sub in and not let the offensive production fall off with the great Clady missing.
Oh, and in the next two weeks, two of the best pass rushers in football—Trent Cole (Philadelphia) and Demarcus Ware (Dallas)—are ready to test you.
So how are you feeling about it all?
“So excited,’’ the 6-5, 315-pound Clark said, driving home Thursday evening after practice and meetings at the Broncos facility. “No feeling of fear. I will not be afraid. But it’s pretty intense, and believe me, I am not taking any of this lightly.”
Clark’s mobility is just average, and Denver may need to help him with chip-blocking from an extra tight end on passing downs. On the plus side, he’s played a lot of left tackle in the spring and summer this year, because Clady held out of camp while negotiating a contract and Clark was the nominal starter there, getting reps and comfortable with the line. “I was lucky to have learned so much from Ryan,’’ he said. “You want to be able to learn from a guy who does everything right. I try to match what he does, mimic him.’’
The matchup with Houston, Clark said, “will be tough. He plays hard every play. All the guys in the league are good, and he’s one of those guys.’’
And Manning has his back, according to Clark.
“When we found out about Ryan,’’ Clark said, “Peyton texted me. He said to me, basically, ‘I know you can do it. You’ve been waiting for this moment your whole life. Let’s get it done.’ That meant a lot.’’
“What’s your goal for Monday night?” I asked.
“No one touches the quarterback,’’ Clark said.
That’s Manning’s goal too.
About Last Night …
Kansas City 26, Philadelphia 16. I thought the story was the marauding Kansas City defense, with its five sacks, four forced fumbles and 11 pass deflections. That is one tough group to block. It’s clear the Chiefs have the right formula to win: an offense that doesn’t turn the ball over (12 quarters, zero giveaways) with a defense that chases the quarterback all over the field and can stop the run. But the other story of the night was the coach who went back home. Check me on this: Ever see Andy Reid smile so much late in a game and in the post-game scrum? I don’t think I ever have. The game, clearly, meant more to him than a third win by Sept. 19 for a team that won two all last year. “You put it out of your mind as best you can,’’ Reid said after the game. “But 14 years is 14 years. I really didn’t think much about it ’til the game was over. I’m not sure exactly how I feel, other than we won the game.’’ I’ll translate for Reid. This is what he just said: “YIPPEEEE! WE WON! WE WON WHERE THEY RAN ME OUT OF TOWN!!!!!”.