Dez Clark calls '10 'a challenging year'

CHICAGO -- Sunday could mark the end of Desmond Clark's tenure with the Bears.

A free agent at the conclusion of the team's playoff run, the veteran tight end is looking forward to a possible second Super Bowl appearance, even though 2010 will go down as the most frustrating season of his 12-year NFL career.

"It's been a challenging year not seeing the field as much as I have in the past, but at the same time trying to do everything I can to help the team out in practice," Clark told ESPNChicago.com. "I've never been in a situation where I haven't been active every game. Even my rookie year in Denver [1999] I dressed out and played special teams. I dealt with this situation by taking that role on scout team seriously and preparing the defense for whatever tight end they were going to face that upcoming week, while also working on my individual skills."

Barring a surprise decision by the coaching staff, Clark will finish his Bears career ninth in franchise history with 242 receptions.

Of those catches, 241 occurred prior to the season.

Clark's 2010 season in Chicago is a genuine head-scratcher. After the Bears opted to pick up the veteran's $475,000 roster bonus in March -- this despite inking Brandon Manumaleuna to a five-year deal that included more than $6 million guaranteed in the first year -- Clark outplayed every tight end on the roster in training camp and earned a starting spot on the first official depth chart.

However, he was relegated to a minor role on offense (fullback) at the start of the regular season, before becoming a game-day inactive 11 times in the final 13 weeks.

"Coming into the season I had high expectations, especially after having a really good camp," Clark said. "But things did not work out as expected. But, I'm still really pleased to be in the playoffs for the third time in eight years here in Chicago, with the chance to finally get that ring. I tell the guys all the time, if we win, I'll celebrate with them just the same as [if] I was still a starter."

At 33 years old, when most NFL players consider hanging it up, Clark feels reborn. Because the Bears opted to use Manumaleuna -- Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz coached Manumaleuna in St. Louis from 2001 to 2005 and was the driving force behind the Bears' pursuit of the blocker in free agency -- they may have unwittingly tacked on a few extra years to Clark's NFL shelf life.

"I haven't felt this good, this late in the year, since I was 24 or 25 years old," Clark said. "After missing five games in 2009, the most in my NFL career, I think not playing this year will only make me stronger moving into next season. I haven't felt this good in a long, long, time."

It's unclear what type of interest Clark will generate on the open market, but a rested and healthy player with 323 lifetime regular-season receptions may be an attractive option for teams in need of help at tight end.

Clark played for Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell for four years at Wake Forest -- Clark finished college as the all-time leading receiver in ACC history -- while former Bears tight end coach Rob Boras landed in Jacksonville after being fired by Lovie Smith at the conclusion of last season.

Those are just two potential future landing spots, but at the present time, Clark says his only focus is helping the Bears advance in the postseason.

"This week in practice I played the role of [Seattle wide receiver] Mike Williams because we have the same body type and they wanted a bigger body to compete with our defensive backs," Clark said. "I didn't hold anything back, and I actually received some compliments from my teammates about how seriously I took the assignment. They told me I had one heck of a week, and I made them better. If this is my last year in Chicago, I want to leave on top, as a champion, because I had a great eight-year run with the Bears.

"But I'd still love to finish my career in a Bears uniform. I don't know if that's possible, but if I had my choice, I'd stay in Chicago. But we'll see what happens."

Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.