PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Downingtown East (Exton, Pa.) trekked through the heart of Philadelphia Sept. 12 for a game against Roman Catholic (Philadelphia, Pa.). TT was on hand to scout Downingtown’s left tackle, Michael Clark, a Maryland pledge, who helped his team to a 35-21 victory.
Our take on his game, as well as an interview, is below:
"You hate to be negative when you come away with a win, but we still have a lot to improve on. We're nowhere near a finished product," Clark said after the game. "It's a lot of little things we need to correct. The first quarter was dreaderful. We had no momentum going, we had no movement up front. As far as the O-Line, we had too many guys position blocking, including myself.
"I think having beaten Roman Catholic the past two years, we kind of took them lightly in the first half. But we came back in the second quarter and really turned things around and put some points on the board. But we let up again in the second half and got too comfortable. It was the same thing -- we made too many mistakes. We did some good things too, but it's so many little things we need to get corrected. The good thing is it's still early, and we have time to get better."
If Clark's assessment sounded somewhat harsh, he was even more critical of himself. While the left tackle played well from this vantage point, he made a few mental errors that ate at him after the game.
"For me, I had one offsides, and that was terrible. I heard the wrong snap count, so that set me back. I need to listen more and pay attention to the calls. I know we won, but when you don’t play like you’re expected, it hurts you," Clark said. "And my pass blocking; that’s a weak point for me right now. I’m working on that every day, trying to get my hands inside more, my kick faster, and not lunging or leaning. We changed our pass blocking this year, and we’re kicking back more and not sliding. So I’m working on keeping my shoulders square to the line, and getting my kick faster. The thing I’ve figured out ... is being in a 3-point stance and having to kick back is very difficult. It just doesn't come naturally to me, and it's something I have to work on.
"But my run blocking has been decent. I'm getting off the ball well and staying low and driving well. Another point is, I’ve been getting really good at cut-off blocks, getting my head across and not letting guys get behind me. I did that pretty well I thought."
Clark said the main area he's trying to hone right now is his kick step. He said UMD's O-Line coach, Greg Studrawa, has broached the kick before, while the Downingtown staff has as well.
"A lot of times, and, really, most of the time, you’re in a 2-point stance when you kick. That's the way it is in college. Maybe that will suit me better, but right now, I'm doing it from a 3-point stance," Clark said. "So that's been a main concern right now. It's just not something that's natural for me. Then just my hands, getting them in the right place ... my body position ... and I have to move my feet quicker and stay lower. It's a struggle sometimes."
The left tackle has received plenty of support from his future coaches. He said he's in touch with his area recruiter, John Dunn, every week, while he's spoken to Studrawa several times as well. Clark was just in College Park, Md., for the Terps' Week One victory against Richmond.
"Coach Dunn and I have a very strong relationship. We've known each other for a long time now. So whenever we talk it’s about family, school, practice, my day -- things like that. We still talk football, but it’s more about checking on your personal life," Clark said. "And when I was at the Richmond game, [Dunn] was great. He’s a really good guy; he gave my mom a hug and my brother a fist pump. So that’s basically what it’s like -- him making sure I’m set school-wise and personally."
Clark mentioned that his relationship with Studrawa is similar. The two don't speak as often, but the Downingtown product can tell Maryland's O-Line coach cares about him.
"Coach Stud, he doesn’t really message me. I only really talk to him down there at Maryland, but we talk about technique work and what I’ll have to work on when I get there," Clark said. "He really cares about my development. He's fully evaluated me, and he knows my strengths and weaknesses. But he’s also very family oritented and asks me how I’m doing whenever we talk. The whole staff is that way. I love the coaches at Maryland."
While at the Richmond affair, Clark said he reconnected with many of his fellow class of 2016 UMD pledges. He also spoke extensively to another Keystone State native, 2017 guard Ryan Solt (James Caughlin/Wilkes Barre, Pa.).
"I was talking to Ryan Solt, and he seemed to really like Maryland. I think he's very high on them," said Clark, who plans to be at Maryland's games against USF, Michigan and Penn State if his schedule works out. "And then I was just talking to Dwayne [Haskins], Brian [Plummer] and Silas [Kelly]. Those guys are the main guys I talked to and stay in touch with. And Terek [Zingale] -- I message him on Twitter and stuff. Me, Brian, Silas and Terek, we're trying to room together when we all get down there.
"But Dwayne, I know he's been talking to a ton of [recruits]. This class is going to be something special, I can tell you that right now. The class of 2016, I mean, we have championship potential. I firmly believe that’s true. We have a great class coming in, maybe one of the best, I believe, talent-wise out there. We’ve all gotten really close, and it’s going to be fun to watch us the next few years."
At 6-feet-7, 265 pounds with tree-length arms; a long frame; and a muscular, wide base, Clark certainly looks the part of a blindside blocker -- and he plays like it too. Operating in an offense that likes to sling it around, Clark has plenty of opportunities to show off his pass-blocking prowess, an area where high school tackles typically struggle. He’s no slouch run blocking either, flashing the ability to drive his man back and finish.
During pass plays, Clark gets off the ball fairly rapidly, quickly entering his stance. He keeps a low base, a straight back and typically gains extension. Clark has the powerful bands to anchor, while he’s deft enough to slide with edge rushers, guiding them past the quarterback. He holds the block through the whistle, actively working to stay with his man.
When Downingtown runs the ball, Clark fires forward instantaneously, coming off the line low and hard. He gets his hands up swiftly and usually strikes underneath his man’s pads, stunting the D-Lineman’s progress. Again, he displays violent, active hands that allow him to maintain the block and/or push his man back.
Clark has a high football IQ too, evidenced by his ability to pick up blitzers and help his guards on the inside. There were a couple occasions when Clark ably executed a combination block.
Better yet, Clark's quite an athlete and moves well for his size. He can push to the second level, and he moves well laterally too. Clark is able to run down the line, locate linebackers in space and knock them out of the play.
To improve, Clark mainly has to refine his technique. In pass protection, his hand placement can be off at times, the recruit hitting the defensive end too high. Moreover, sometimes he has faulty footwork, notably his kick-slide. When Clark attempts to readjust/recover against fast-fibered rushers, he can get crossed up, compromising his form. He gets away with it in high school, but probably won’t at the next level. He also has to work on shifting his weight when pitted against faster, more elusive defensive ends.
On top of that, we noticed Clark tends to lunge instead of letting his man come to him. Yes, he’s able to gain extension, but lunging saps his power. In other words, all his strength is coming from his upper body rather than his base.
Speaking of power, we’d like to see Clark hit the defensive end with a much more potent strike. He’s a burly, strong guy, but once in awhile his initial jabs lack “oomph,” allowing the edge rusher to continue scrapping towards the quarterback.
The same holds true when Clark is run blocking. He does come off the ball well, but we’d like to see him consistently knock the defender off the ball. One reason he’s not as effective now is Clark doesn’t always keep his feet pumping. It would behoove him to fire said feet rapidly after contact, which, combined with his forward drive, would enable him to finish his man off more often.
Also, Clark's high school team uses a more complex blocking scheme than many programs at this level, which mean's the linemen are asked to execute higher-level techniques. Clark showed he could perform said blocks (slip blocks, cut blocks, trap blocks, slide blocks), but has to do so more consistently and with more conviction. His form can be compromised at times, which he gets away with now but won't at the next level.
Last but not least, Clark has to keep adding strength. He has plenty of room to pack on pounds, and he probably needs another 30 or so to hold up in the Big Ten.