Measurables: 6-foot-5, 309 pounds.
2014 stats: seven regular season starts, one postseason start.
Chris Clark’s road to being a starting offensive tackle in the NFL was a long one, fraught with the usual obstacles of an undrafted rookie free agent. He left the University of Southern Mississippi in 2008, and declared for the NFL Draft, but didn’t hear his name called on draft day.
The Minnesota Vikings took a flyer on him and he spent the next two years with the organization, before being waived. The Denver Broncos claimed him off of the waiver wire and he’s been with the team ever since.
Now in his eighth NFL season, Clark has appeared in 69 games, with 27 starts. Primarily used as the Broncos swing tackle for his first several years in Denver, he finally received his chance to shine in 2013, after starting Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady was lost for the season in Week 2.
Clark went on to start 14 regular season games at LT, two playoff games and the Super Bowl. He earned a +12.2 cumulative grade via Pro Football Focus, which ranked him as the No. 12 LT in the NFL among players with at least 14 starts.
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Clark and the entire Broncos offensive line were badly exposed in Super Bowl XLVIII, which has led many in the media and the fanbase to minimize his ability. Yes, he benefitted from Peyton Manning’s lightning-quick release, but so has Ryan Clady, who was elected to the Pro Bowl in 2014, despite giving up three sacks, 10 QB hits and 22 hurries.
Following the 2013 season, the Broncos wanted to maximize their talent along the O-line with Clady returning from injury. Their solution, and one that the John Fox administration likely rues, was to move right tackle Orlando Franklin to left guard and plug Clark in at right tackle. This allowed Clady to return to his natural position and kept Franklin and Clark on the field.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was an abject failure, but it didn’t work out the way the coaching staff planned. Franklin struggled at first at LG, but by the time the season was in the books, he emerged as the best player along the O-line.
Clark wasn’t as fortunate. Tasked with playing RT in a power scheme, he played inconsistently to start the season and was eventually benched for Paul Cornick, who was eventually benched himself, while All-Pro right guard Louis Vasquez was moved to RT.
If the Broncos truly made a mistake shuffling the O-line, once the season had started, it was in removing Clark from the starting unit. There are many who would disagree with me, including some on staff here at Mile High Huddle, but the Broncos would have been better off letting the chips fall with Clark at RT.
The instability along the O-line had a domino effect on the Broncos season and one of the results was a banged up Peyton Manning. The season ended again in a postseason failure and now Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennsion are the men steering the ship.
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Clark was originally penciled in as the team’s 2015 swing tackle—a veteran option to compete with shiny new second round pick Ty Sambrailo. But then Ryan Clady tore his ACL. My initial gut reaction was that Kubiak and Dennison would move Clark back to LT, where he had a lot of success in 2013, but instead, they decided to roll with the rookie to protect their 39-year-old quarterback’s blindside.
Clark played well enough in OTAs to be the starting RT heading into training camp. But the competition for the job is far from over. The team signed Ryan Harris to be a veteran backup, following Clady’s injury and they also have 2014 third round pick Michael Schofield in the fold, still waiting for his opportunity to suit up on gameday for the first time.
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Chris Clark is going to hold down the starting RT job. Harris has previous experience with the coaches and system, but Clark has the chemistry and history with Manning. Barring a spectacular collapse, I don’t see Clark relinquishing the starting job.
He is built for the zone blocking scheme, where vision, footwork and lateral quickness are paramount. The Broncos ran a lot of zone concepts in 2013, while Alex Gibbs was still in Denver, and Clark excelled therein. 2015 could be Clark’s best season as a pro.