Problem 2015 pick Frank Clark is the man to watch in Seattle, which needs someone to step up big on defense
RENTON, Wash. — In the days leading up to the first Organized Team Activities for the Seahawks, linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright resolved to rewatch last season’s divisional playoff loss at Carolina, in which the Panthers cruised to a 31-0 halftime lead and won 31-24 to begin a march to the Super Bowl. The pair of film junkies pored over each play, watching the game in installments—a quarter or so at home, a quarter more at the facility—until they were done punishing themselves.
“We’re not really satisfied with how that game went and we don’t want to have a season end like that again,” he said this week. “We didn’t start playing our style of defense until the second quarter.”
That style we’ve become so familiar with—a Cover 3-reliant defense with few bells and whistles, predicated on a pass rush that consistently wins one-on-ones—betrayed the Seahawks in the opening moments of that playoff game, as Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and company failed to distract Newton from his seam-busting receivers downfield. Russell Wilson’s two early interceptions didn’t help matters.
We’ll give Wilson the benefit of the doubt for now, but what about that defensive line? After losing Bruce Irvin to free agency, the Seahawks lack a Sam linebacker who can reliably drop to the edge in passing situations to complement Avril and Bennett. Enter Frank Clark, the second-year lineman who may just be the next household name to emerge from a Seattle defense in need of one.
“When its Cliff or Mike Bennett, they’re known commodities,” says defensive coordinator Kris Richard. “You get chips and double teams on those guys. Frank Clark developing into that next guy is critical for us.”
Clark, a round-faced 23-year-old from Cleveland via Michigan, was a controversial draft pick for GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll in 2015 after he’d been dismissed from the Wolverines the previous November following the second arrest of his college career. Police responding to a disturbance at a hotel in Sandusky, Ohio, encountered a battered woman and a trashed hotel room, eventually arresting the 260-pound Clark. (He pleaded guilty to persistent disorderly conduct.)
After Seattle tabbed him with the 63rd overall selection, he says his rookie season flew by without much time to reflect. He says he was at times overzealous on the field—“doing too much and making rookie mistakes”—and he was late to meetings.
After the Carolina game, while Seahawks coaches and players were breaking down the anatomy of a stunning loss, Clark replayed his own personal highlight reel of flaws, taking time to reflect for the first time since winter 2014.
“I got that time to sit back and think,” he says. “I did counseling, I changed a lot in my life. I had to ask myself what was the most important thing in my life, and where I was going versus where I wanted to go. I wanted to go to the NFL and be known as a great and make it to the Hall of Fame, and I realized I was headed in the other direction.
“I dropped my shoulders and let that pressure slide off. I knew this year there would be more asked of me.”
It’s early yet, but coaches who had walked away from the 2015 season wondering if they’d made a mistake in drafting Clark are now wondering how they got so lucky.
“He’s really blossomed in terms of maturity,” Richard says. “He’s a father now. You see the transformations take place in his life where he’s grown overnight. He left one way and came back a completely different man. The discipline it takes to lead a family is very similar to the discipline it takes to be successful on the field.”
RENTON, Wash.-"Look at you," obnoxious writer says to Pete Carroll. "You're dressed like Al Davis." pic.twitter.com/h107iDB0KR— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) August 16, 2016
FIVE THINGS I THOUGHT ABOUT THE SEAHAWKS
1. It remains to be seen how the Seahawks will handle the loss of Irvin, who typically dropped to a rush end position on passing downs from his SAM linebacker spot. Michael Morgan surely will assume his position on first and second down, but the 225-pound sixth-year linebacker has not demonstrated a flair for rushing the passer. Third-year DE Cassius Marsh will be in the conversation along with Clark on passing downs.
2. I’ve made a habit of asking Richard Sherman for his breakout player before each of the last two seasons, and he has yet to disappoint. Before the 2014 season he accurately predicted Byron Maxwell was in line for a big payday in free agency, and his 2015 breakout pick was none other than K.J. Wright, who went on to make Pro Football Focus’s All-Pro team. Sherman put a few moments of thought into his 2016 breakout pick. “If you’re talking about breakout like fans around the league will know about him, K.J. Wright again, but if you’re talking about football people realizing that a guy is the real deal, DeShawn Shead.”
3. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such a stark contrast between the starting quarterback and his projected backup in a training camp. Russell Wilson looked to be in complete command of the offense in team drills, dropping effortless rainbows into the hands of grateful receivers. Trevone Boykin, not so much.
4. In conversations with Seahawks staff, it became clear to me that the team is way more confident in its current offensive line situation than the national media appear to be. With each passing practice, there’s growing confidence in rookie guard Germain Ifedi and left tackle Garry Gilliam as he completes his conversion from the right side.
5. I don’t think the Seahawks ever truly acclimated Jimmy Graham into the offense before he tore his right patellar tendon last November, and that delay has bled into the 2016 season while Graham continues to rehab. I would expect to see a lot of Luke Willson early this season as coaches ease Graham into a heavier workload.
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