Clark brings a lengthy pedigree as the security blanket for one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, Peyton Manning. The two spent Clark’s first eight seasons in the league on the same offense, and the veteran tight end provided Manning with a reliable possession receiver in Indianapolis.
After a one-year stop in Tampa Bay, Clark joins the Ravens following an offseason where he let himself take his time choosing a team.
“It was a couple of teams. Everyone was kind of the same, just talking, curious and trying to figure out my situation, if I was done or not or if I’d been working out, just all the small talk,” Clark said. “But then obviously Baltimore took the reins and showed a lot more interest and I then talked to other teams, and just let them know what was going on. Then it was kind of an obvious, fortunate decision. It was one of those things - the best case happened, hopefully on both ends. But certainly on my end, I was very ecstatic that Baltimore was one of the teams that called.”
Clark said he enjoyed the change of still being at home into August, spending time with his two sons while waiting for the right match to materialize.
“It’s one of those things that I have the luxury to be kind of picky, and I was,” he said. “There was a few other teams early on that we chose not to play for. I wanted to be in the right situation where I feel like with my skill set I can help and I think this is a place that obviously wants to win, has proven they can win and I just want to be a small piece of helping them continue to do that.”
Clark comes to the Ravens with 10 seasons (nine with the Colts), 131 games and 118 starts of NFL experience. He has 474 career catches for 5,322 yards and 50 touchdowns, so he’s been productive, too.
But he is 34 years old and teams did have a good reason to wonder whether he was done, especially after a season where he finished with his lowest 16-game totals since 2006 (47 receptions, 435 yards, four touchdowns).
But the thought of not playing this year didn’t enter Clark’s mind.
“I didn’t really think that. I wasn’t trying to think that yet,” he said.
There were a couple of things that drew Clark to Baltimore, aside from the fact that the team just won the Super Bowl.
The 6-foot-3, 257-pound tight end was attracted to playing with quarterback Joe Flacco and excited to reunite with his former Colts head coach, Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.
“(Flacco’s) a gamer and just a great leader and just can flat-out play the game,” Clark said. “As a receiving tight end, that was No. 1. Wherever I was going to go, they had to have a solid quarterback and this was better than that. ...
“(Caldwell) definitely helped and definitely made it more exciting to have that familiarity with a coach, especially the offensive coordinator. Just sitting in the first meeting with him was - his demeanor, his direction and control of the offense hasn’t changed, just like when he was the head coach, just the way he addressed the group. ... He’s just a tremendous leader and just a guy that you just don’t want to make him mad. You just want to give everything you have for him. It’s just one of those things that’s a comfortable fit.”
How long will it take for Clark to get up to speed? Does he expect to play a significant role in Thursday’s preseason game against the Falcons?
“I don’t know. I’ll tell you what, I didn’t even know what I was doing out in practice today,” he said. “They just threw me in, hey do this play. I’m like, ‘All right.’ So we’re still at that phase. Unfortunately, it’s not the complete Indy offense, where I can just go, ‘Oh, this is easy.’ So there’s some (similar) concepts and whatnot, but really, it’s a new offense and I haven’t had this short a time to learn an offense. So I’ve got to put on my thinking cap. So a game? I have no idea what their plans are. I’ll be kind of curious myself, so we’ll find that out.”
There are challenges that come with being handed a new playbook this late in camp, and Clark is ready for them.
“You do your best learning out here and making the mistakes and looking like an idiot, and just causing a whole big ruckus and just being in the wrong position,” he said. “That’s the only way you can truly learn how to play football. You can sit up and answer all the right answers, but it’s the heat, it’s the third down, it’s everything going in and you hear the call, that’s when you need to get it. That’s what practice is for, so I’m excited to be out here and work on that.”
From just his first press conference, it was clear that Clark is an affable, bright and well-spoken veteran with a good sense of humor.
One way he relayed that was a story about choosing to wear No. 87 after 10 NFL seasons wearing only No. 44. Clark was asked whether he’d approach fullback Vonta Leach about acquiring the number.
“No, there’s no chance. There’s a time where you just don’t even ask,” Clark said. “And Leach has had a phenomenal career. If he was like a four- or five-year guy, we’d have a conversation. But I respect him too much as a player to even ask him. It’s really hard. As long as I don’t look down, I’m still 44; 87’s on the back of my head, it’s down here (on my jersey). In my mind, I’m just wearing 44. I don’t know what people are talking about 87.
“So I don’t look down because I looked down one time and was like, ‘That’s weird.’ I picked 87 for one of my favorite receivers of all-time, Reggie Wayne, and playing with him, he was one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever played with. I told him last night I got his number, so he was pretty pumped about that. I learned a lot from that guy. I felt good about having 87. I would love 44, but 87, we’ll make it work.”