RICHMOND, Va. -- Ryan Clark laughs, a little at least, at the idea that he lost range in the middle of the field. It’s not that he’s arguing the notion. It’s for another reason.
“I never had a great deal of it anyway,” Clark said. “I’m not Ed Reed.”
Of course, one question remaining about Clark is what sort of range will he have in the Washington Redskins' secondary. But Clark and his coaches point to other aspects of his game they expect to still be there: his communication skills, his physical style of play, his tackling.
If Clark adds those aspects, then the Redskins will have improved play at safety – if, at 34, he can last all 16 games. In the meantime, there’s a trickle-down effect from his presence. Teammates have chided him about how much he enjoys talking to the media; secondary coach Raheem Morris calls him Bristol – as in Connecticut, as in ESPN.
But Clark says he still has something to prove on the field and isn’t ready to just be a full-time analyst.
“Definitely,” he said. “Being 34 years old and in my 13th year and having the last year not go as well for our defense in Pittsburgh and for me, I think I have a lot to prove. Nobody knows what happened last year. There were things I was told to do and the way I was told to play. But for me it’s an opportunity at redemption.”
Clark was not a playmaker in Pittsburgh. He has 15 career interceptions, never more than three in a season, and four forced fumbles. Clark’s strength was just in being in the right place at the right time and making the proper tackle.
“The way I play is not predicated on how far I can run and how fast I can get there,” Clark said. “It’s understanding the game. It’s being physical. It’s being a communicator. Those are the things I can still do. ...That’s why I was able to in 2012 have the best year of my career.”
Morris said that Clark has been "stiff" in coverage for a long time, saying that was no secret. But his ability to compensate in the past stemmed from Clark’s understanding of how to play the position and how disciplined he is with his eyes. The Redskins hope this remains the case.
“Eyes before feet; his angles,” Morris said of how Clark gets it done. “He’s a technician. He loves this game. He plays with such a physical presence and does a great job reading his keys and anticipating. I’ve been around a lot of great older players. [Ex-Tampa Bay corner] Ronde Barber is similar to this guy when it comes to being around the ball. [Clark] is that kind of guy when it comes to being around tackles.
"I'll take everything he's got left in the tank and use it up until the wheels fall off."
Clark’s presence enables the Redskins to use Brandon Meriweather back at his natural strong safety position. Meriweather worked out with Clark in Arizona in the offseason. When he points out Clark’s impact, it’s not on-the-field learning.
“Just the way I eat, the way I carry myself in meetings, film watching,” Meriweather said. “Just a bunch of small things that he’s been doing for a long time that he’s helping me with.”
Clark said, “It’s not that I’m teaching them, I’m just doing. I just put myself in the same rooms they’re in and we talk football. Brandon trained with me in the offseason and I put film on, film of him and film of me and we just talked football. When you do things like that you understand the person and different things he’s doing that work for me and you can take what you want from that.”
And Clark knows he's not the only one in the defensive backfield with something to prove.
“All I hear is it’s going to be the weakest part of the team,” Clark said. “That’s what people think and expect coming into the season. It’s our job to come out here and not necessarily prove people wrong, but our job is to hold our own and do our part for what this team needs.”