Nobody has more to prove in the Seahawks opener in St. Louis than Frank Clark. Of course, that doesn’t make it much different than every other day for the heavily scrutinized rookie defensive lineman.
The second-round draft pick has wowed fans in the preseason as a rare alloy of speed and power, able to race past tackles and overpower guards.
There’s been an unexpected hunger accompanying those physical skills, though. Coursing from sideline-to-sideline in pursuit, he plays with a fire that’s conspicuous even on a team noted for its intensity.
All that makes him an indisputable positive addition to the roster. But character questions will hound him for some time.
Since he was dismissed from his Michigan team last fall, mentions of Clark’s name often drag an ugly modifying clause. “Clark, who was arrested on charges of domestic violence …”
So when he was drafted by the Seahawks, it drew a predictable and valid outcry.
He was a risk the Seahawks didn’t need to take, I wrote. Any involvement in domestic violence should be non-negotiable. Don’t bother trying to mitigate the circumstances.
She started it. No excuse. We were drinking. No excuse. I came from a tough background. No excuse.
The criticism should be shared by any team that would bring an abuser into the community, or would turn a soft focus on the situation and call their efforts “due diligence” when so often that means “covering our butts if goes bad.”
Clark’s was an ugly story from every perspective, but with conflicting claims. Bringing little clarity to the circumstances, the police investigated, the court ruled it “persistent disorderly conduct,” and Clark entered the draft smudged but not blackballed.
The Seahawks researched, called it a lapse in judgment, and promised vigilance in counseling and oversight.
The legal system had spoken, and it’s a country built on second chances. OK, let’s see.
In a results-driven business, an NFL coach will get fired for not winning games quicker than he’ll get fired for hiring the occasional dubious citizen.
But the Seahawks project themselves as more than that, touting their connection to the community. Deservedly so, too, as they often raise funds and awareness for causes and charities, and step up when tragedies strike the region.
I argued that a player’s rap-sheet shouldn’t be placed upon a sliding scale where increasing degrees of illegality can be offset by commensurate on-field impact. But in weighing the potential rewards, Clark wasn’t worth it, I wrote last spring.
In this assessment, I confess to a miscalculation. I was way off.
This guy is a good player. Maybe really, really good. Preseason games against second-teamers are open to interpretation, but I’d still say Clark was the most impressive rookie defensive line prospect the Seahawks have had in years.
“Frank has looked more explosive than maybe we thought he would be,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He has this unbelievable natural strength and length that allows him to play with the big guys at 280. He can be forceful, and I didn’t sense that as much. The other part of it (is) I’m really pleased about is the motor. He really chases the ball, he really goes, he’s consistently getting after it. I don’t think I appreciated that as much on film as I do now.”
Clark totaled 15 tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles in the preseason, but his play was more impressive than his statistics.
He will make rookie mistakes, but I think he’ll prove in St. Louis that he’s ready to play in the NFL, and be a factor every week. He’s still raw but fans can only wonder the impact he will have when he develops technique and an understanding of the game.
“He fits in, there’s no doubt about it,” defensive coordinator Kris Richard said.
“He’s he’s had a lot of success early, early in preseason, things of that nature. We’re just hoping that it carries over, we fully anticipate that it will carry over, and right now our sole focus is to make sure that he’s doing all the little things that professionals do in order to keep themselves successful.”
Surely, teaching him to be a professional includes coaching him as a man, coaching him to guard against any judgmental lapses.
No question, Clark has the look of a player with great potential.
But he’s still going to be asked to prove himself off the field every day.