Rookie Frank Clark is still waiting to make a big impact for the Seattle Seahawks.
So what happened to Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Frank Clark, who was the star of the preseason but hasn’t found the going as easy in the regular season?
The regular season, that’s what, according to Seattle defensive coordinator Kris Richard.
During Richard’s weekly meeting with the media on Thursday, the questioning turned to Clark, who had 15 tackles in four preseason games — the most of any defensive lineman — but has had just six in the regular season. Richard was asked if it was as simple as the fact that in the preseason Clark played against a lot of other rookies and non-starters trying to make teams and now was playing solely against regulars in games that mean something.
“That simple,” Richard said. “The game changes. Now you’re going against more first-teamers, more consistently.”
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It’s not as if Clark hasn’t played — he’s been on the field for 139 snaps, 28 percent of all available snaps for the season. That includes the fact that he missed the Carolina game with a hamstring injury.
Richard indicated that for now, Clark’s role is likely to remain as a situational player and helping spell starters such as Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett at end.
“He’s being consistent, in that we’re going to use him in some spot play, we’re going to use him at both ends position, we’re going to use him some on the interior defensive line,” Richard said. “He’s a guy, again, who’s multi-talented, so whenever we need him, somebody needs to blow, somebody needs to rest, anything of that nature. He is in the rotation, he fits in the rotation and he’s drastically improving each and every week.”
Clark, the team’s first pick in the 2015 draft taken in the second round out of Michigan, saw some of his most extensive playing time in Seattle’s most recent game against Dallas, in part due to Avril dealing with an ankle injury, on the field for 22 snaps, 37 percent of those that were available.
He had one solo tackle in the game and his first quarterback hurry.
“Improving,” Richard said. “Improving consistently. Improving consistently. He’s still a rookie, still learning how to play this game, still learning how to be a professional, and that will come in time.”
Asked what Clark still needs to learn about being a professional, Richard said: “Taking care of your body, taking care of your mental health, studying, everything of that nature. Once you get here, it’s ultimately what separates the good ones from the great ones and ultimately to the elite. How do we propel ourselves to be elite players, is what it comes down to.”
It obviously doesn’t help Clark get on the field that Avril and Bennett are playing as well as any pair of defensive ends in the NFL — other than for rest, there is no reason for the Seahawks to want to take either off the field.
And he’s far from the first rookie to learn that the game changes from the preseason to the regular season. Seattle under Pete Carroll has often seen rookies take a big step in the second half of the season and would welcome one from Clark as they begin an eight-game stretch in the final eight weeks that will determine the course of this year.
Clark is the only Seattle rookie to see time on defense this season — cornerback Tye Smith is the only other rookie on the 53-man roster and so far has played only on special teams.