Charles Clark saw plays last year he "probably" could have made, but didn't.
He plans on changing that in 2006 because, in his words, he won't be as cautious now that Coach Ed Orgeron's 4-3 defense is "second nature" to him.
"In the first year of a system, playing the position I play, you would rather make an error on the side of caution. It's difficult sometimes to determine if you should take the risk or not," said the rising senior and three'year starter. "My main job is to not let anyone get behind me, but I also have to come up and make plays.
"There were times last year that I didn't come up aggressively enough because of the risks involved. Being in the system a year, I will have a better feel on when to take a calculated gamble and when not to. I won't be as hesitant."
Clark has long been known as one of the Rebs' more astute players and that is one big reason he has been in the starting lineup as long as he has.
Simply put, he doesn't make glaring mistakes because he is a thinking man's football player. Coaches like that in a free safety.
But most of 2005 didn't sit well with Clark.
"I can be much more aggressive now. The coaches wil trust my decision-making more and I will have more confidence in when to lay back and when to attack," he explained. "There were times last year I shoul dhave broken on some passes that I might have been able to get to, but I chose to let the receivers catch the ball and get him on the ground quickly. This year, I will break on those passes."
Clark said he has also made a commitment to improving his tackling. It's not an area he considers a weakness, but he says he did miss tackles he should have made last season and he can't allow that to happen this year.
"I'm in the middle of the field, the quarterback of the defense. I'm the guy who has to keep the opposition from hitting the big play. I normally did what I was supposed to do, but there were times when I missed tackles I should have made," Clark stated. "Those plays stick with me. My goal is to be able to look at film every game and be able to say 'that was the right move and I finished the plays I was supposed to.' To do that, I have to be a more sure tackler. I have to get ball carriers on the ground every time I'm supposed to."
The physical side of that is that Charles has been working extremely hard on his movement.
"I run a lot of drills where I am trying to improve my quickness. My anticipation is good, but I need to work on being quicker to the point of attack and quicker to the ball when it's in the air and when it's in someone's hands," Clark allowed. "Better movement will also help my man-to-man skills, which I have worked hard since the season ended."
Charles believes his situation is similar to the rest of the Rebel defenders.
"There is no doubt in my mind that all the guys on defense will be reacting more and thinking less this year. Experience in a system does that for you naturally," he assessed. "We played fast some of the time last year, but sometimes we were doing too much thinking. This year, we will be able to play fast all the time, I believe.
"We were 80% fast and 20% iffy last year. We need to get that to 100% fast in 2006."
Clark is very confident in the Rebel secondary.
"The starters will be seasoned in the SEC and in this system. Our spring goal is to get the younger guys up to the level of the starters so we can get some rest back there sometimes," he declared. "If we can get some younger guys to step up and progress, that will help us all."
Charles gave a "for instance."
"If Gary Albury and Gary Riggs can progress to the point of being consistent and reliable, which is reachable for them, then the coaches may look at B. Brown to work some at cornerback to give Trumaine (McBride) and Nate (Banks, who is expected to take over for graduated Travis Johnson at corner) some experienced help. We need that to happen so we (the starters) don't get drained. Chasing the guys we have to chase, we need to be fresh at all times, but we can't do that without good backups who can spell us from time to time."
Clark is entering his last season and has tasted the highs and lows of Ole Miss football. He's tired of the lows and ready to end his career with a high.
"After the Cotton Bowl season, we haven't been a good football team. That is the bottom line. We want to get that feeling back," he closed. "We want to leave a winning legacy here, something this program can build on.
"I don't want these younger guys to endure anything like we have had the last two seasons. It's painful. As seniors, we cannot allow that to happen again."
FS Charles Clark
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