Commentary | Opponents forget about Dallas Clark, but Tampa Bay Buccaneers count on him

adell@bradenton.comNovember 21, 2012 

TAMPA

Dallas Clark is quite content to have gotten lost in the hoopla surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' trifecta of impact newcomers.

If he can continue to run silent, run deep like he did in catching the game-winning, walk-off touchdown against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, he will be satisfied to maintain his anonymity.

The tight end will never have to worry about being underappreciated.

Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman has shown his gratitude in the past five games, showering Clark with numerous passes that turned into 18 receptions for 174 yards and three touchdowns. Clark had nine catches in the first five games.

Clark is fine with all the attention going to Vincent Jackson, Lavonte David and Doug Martin, the Bucs' new set of terrific triplets. Clark is your prototypical cloak-and-dagger tight end. It's hard to find him, and, when you do, he has already stuck the knife in your heart.

When Bucs head coach Greg Schiano kicked former tight end Kellen Winslow and his surly attitude out of town and signed Clark as a free agent, some moaned.

Though Winslow was a headache, speculation ran rampant that Clark was past his prime, though he had put up great numbers catching passes from Peyton Manning with the Indianapolis Colts.

Even Clark had his doubts. But he also had patience, which is one of his strongest assets.

"You never know what is going to happen when you come into a new situation," Clark said. "You want to be a positive influence and do some things that will help the team. You work hard every day and hope good will happen."

This is turning into a better marriage than the Bucs had a right to expect. Clark learned a lot about turning fourth-quarter drives into mini-miracles with Manning,

and his veteran leadership is paying huge dividends, especially for some of the Bucs' emotionally fragile rookies.

The Bucs and Clark learned a lot about each other in Tampa Bay's winning drive against Carolina.

"We could've folded it in and said, 'All right, get ready for next week,' but the resiliency this team has is special," Clark said. "This team knows you never give up because you never know what can happen. The majority of games in the league come down to the last drive."

He even provided a little cushion for Martin, who sat dejected on the bench after fumbling an apparent touchdown into the end zone.

"Doug learned a valuable lesson," Clark said. "He was thinking he lost the game, but that's not the case. Even if we had lost it wasn't his fault. It is never one person's fault. That is a good thing for him as a rookie to learn. You need to understand that anything can happen in the NFL. There are so many variables involved."

Though he might have a lost step, Clark is still as savvy as ever. On his game-winning catch, the 33-year-old, 10-year veteran changed his route in midstream, causing Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis to fall down and leaving Clark wide open.

"It was awesome in that you rarely call a play and it happens exactly the way you drew it up," Clark said. "I ran that route (the same way) about four times and then all of a sudden I change. If was a perfect call by Coach Sully (Mike Sullivan). I didn't know he fell down. All I knew is that I got around him."

Clark is happy to be with Bucs and to be in the NFL. At 6-foot-3, 252 pounds, he was never of the Mike Ditka, macho-man mold and says if it wasn't for guys like Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez and the San Diego Chargers' Antonio Gates, he might have never been given a second look.

Great tight ends present problems for a defense. They are too big for defensive backs and too quick for linebackers and are adept blockers.

Clark's skill is catching passes.

"If it wasn't for them, I would've been out of a job in a hurry because I was horrible at blocking," Clark said. "It's nice that the game is finding a way to use a guy like me with my abilities because not many years ago it wasn't like that. A trend has been definitely taking place, and now everyone is looking for that receiving tight end. You've got to have a little sprinkle of everything. You've got to have toughness and some ability."

Clark flourished with Manning, breaking the Colts' single-season franchise receiving record by a tight end. He had his best year in 2009, when he caught 100 passes for 1,106 yards and 11 touchdowns.

It's nice to catch all those passes, but Clark will be the first to tell anyone it's still a blue-collar position.

"It's not all that glamorous out there catching the ball when you've got grown men trying to kill you. It's not all that it's cracked up," Clark said. "There are some fun things, and that is what I love about the game and being versatile. I would get a little bored if I just had to block. I like the variety and seeing the mismatches with the safety."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 1221. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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