New lease on life

Several Tennessee football players who were obscure in 2011 could be key contributors in 2012. Sign in or subscribe now for a look at one of them.

Some ventures are doomed to failure. Trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, for instance. Or trying to fit Greg Clark into a 4-3 defensive alignment.

At 6-feet-2 and 330 pounds, Clark was much too immobile to play tackle in Tennessee's 4-3 the past two years. That's why he redshirted in 2010 and saw one game of mop-up action in 2011.

The 2012 season projected to be more of the same until defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox left last winter and took his 4-3 base defense with him. He was replaced by Sal Sunseri, whose 3-4 base defense is much better suited to guys built like Greg Clark.

Square peg, meet square hole.

"This defense is way better suited for me," Clark said this week. "I'm not saying I couldn't play the other defense, but this one fits my style of play a lot more."

That's because the same bulk that proved a hindrance for a 4-3 tackle is a blessing for a 3-4 nose guard.

"I like the nose a lot better," Clark said. "I'm a big guy, so it fits me a lot better than the 3 technique. The 3 technique you're playing a lot more in space, and that's really not suited for me. I'm more of a guy who can beat one man on blocks."

Tennessee defensive line coach John Palermo wants Clark to drop another 10 pounds.
(Danny Parker/
Still, playing nose guard is not for everyone. Fighting off a pair of 300-pound offensive linemen on every play requires a specific disposition.

"You've got to be mean," Clark conceded. "You can't be afraid to take on double-team blocks and stuff. You've just got to go out there and play."

Clark, a rising sophomore from Warner Robins, Ga., has been showing enough meanness lately to get some first-team repetitions in practice. He's encouraged but not satisfied.

"I've been doing a few things well but I've got to keep my pads low, stay consistent and keep getting better," he said. "That's the main thing."

Clark recorded one assist in last Friday's initial spring scrimmage but was less than happy with his performance.

"I learned that I'm not where I want to be right now," he said. "I've got a lot more improving to do. I know I came a long way from the last two years but I've got to keep working hard to be able to help the team this fall."

Tennessee's new defensive line coach agrees.

"He's getting better," John Palermo said. "He's doing some good things. We're still not where we want to be but he's making progress."

Clark's determination should help in his quest for improvement.

"He has a good work ethic and he obviously has the size to be able to anchor the inside," Palermo said. "He's willing to learn, and he's done a good job."

Clark has dropped 15 pounds since last fall, going from 330 to 315.

"That's a big difference," he said. "I can feel myself moving a lot better."

Still, he isn't as nimble as his position coach would like for him to be.

"He hasn't lost enough," Palermo said. "He needs to lose another 10 pounds, then he'll be fine."

After getting only a few snaps of mop-up duty in his first two years on campus, Clark seems determined to do whatever it takes to earn meaningful action this fall.

"I'm taking full advantage of my opportunity," he said. "I just want to take it and run with it."

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