Dream come true: Chris Clark knew he would be protecting Cam Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Chris Clark was asleep at his home in Houston three weeks ago when he had a dream he would be protecting the blind side of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

He doesn't remember all the details, other than calling it "a good dream."

He just remembers blocking for Newton.

Then a week later: "Here I am," the 6-foot-5, 305-pound left tackle said on Tuesday before the Panthers (2-1) broke for their Week 4 bye. "God revealed that for me."

Of all the good stories on Carolina's makeshift offensive line, Clark's arguably is the best. He was on a plane from Houston to Charlotte so fast the Tuesday afternoon before the Week 2 game at Atlanta that he barely had time to tell his pregnant wife and two kids goodbye.

After only three practices with no training camp or offseason program as he rehabbed from an ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve last season at Houston, he was starting in a big NFC South game against the Falcons in loud Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Newton summed it up best.

"I met him Wednesday; he started Sunday," the 2015 NFL MVP said. "He played his ass off."

A week later, Clark helped pave the way for the Panthers to rush for a season-high 230 yards, including a career-high 184 for second-year running back Christian McCaffrey.

He helped Newton rush for two touchdowns and pass for two more.

"It's been a tough deal," said the 32-year-old Clark, who entered the league in 2008 as an undrafted rookie out of Southern Miss. "It would be tough for anybody to come in and play after coming in the way I did. But I've been playing this game for a long time. I'm used to making adjustments. It was just another adjustment to make on the fly. You build off it and keep rolling."

Good timing

The bye came at a good time for Clark, who has been living mostly off the clothes he stuffed in a suitcase after the Panthers called. He couldn't wait to get back to Houston.

"I miss them so much," he said of his family. "The way I left, whew, I was out of there."

Clark had workouts with three other teams -- Indianapolis, Houston and Detroit -- before accepting Carolina's offer. He said the money wasn't right with the others.

He accepted Carolina's offer of a one-year deal with a base salary of $915,000 not only because the money was right, but the opportunity to play with Newton was right.

"It was Cam, man!" Clark said. "Cam is an electrifying player, and when you get a chance to play with a guy like that, you've got to be excited. What he brings to a team is amazing."

Blocking for Newton can be a challenge for tackles because of the way the quarterback runs like none other in the league.

"It's a little different, but I'm about adjusting," Clark said with a smile.

That Clark's conditioning was good enough for him to play every snap during his first two games -- a total of 134 combined -- is a testament to how he kept himself in shape.

His workouts in Houston included sessions with shoulder pads and a helmet so he would be ready. He wasn't simply hoping to get a call.

"I knew a call would come," Clark said. "We kept seeing injuries. It wasn't any pressure of, 'I hope, I hope.' We knew it would happen. It was just a matter of where."

Texans center Nick Martin isn't surprised his former "locker buddy" is doing so well on short notice.

"Clark is an awesome player, an awesome locker room guy," he said. "He knows the business, knows what to do, how to play smart and really just get the job done. We talked about everything from keeping your body right, what you've got to do outside of the stadium to go above and beyond. What you're doing pregame to get ready, just really everything. Eleven years, all that wisdom."

Matsko factor

It wasn't just Newton that was a factor in Clark's decision to sign with Carolina. It was the presence of offensive line coach John Matsko, considered one of the game's better teachers.

"Yeah, I heard a lot of things about Matsko being a technician coach, and they're all true," Clark said. "To be able to have a coach that actually coaches you on technique and assignment the way it's supposed to be done, not just getting the job done, but actually making sure your technique is correct, that's awesome for me."

"It's rare."

Matsko has been put to the supreme test so far this season. Only Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil is starting where he did when training camp began.

Matt Kalil went through most of camp as the left tackle, then had his knee scoped and less than a week before the opener was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return.

Taylor Moton began camp competing with Amini Silatolu for the left guard position left vacant when Andrew Norwell signed with Jacksonville in free agency. Moton moved to right tackle when Daryl Williams suffered the first of two knee injuries, the second in the opener that landed him on IR.

Moton moved to left tackle for the final preseason game and the opener, and was playing well before Williams' second injury.

That's when Clark got the call.

And oh, left guard Greg Van Roten was a reserve guard/center who has adjusted nicely as a starter on the left side since Silatolu suffered a season-ending knee injury. And backup center Tyler Larsen has started the past two games at right guard with Pro Bowler Trai Turner out with a concussion.

"We thrive on being called a make-shift O-line," Kalil said. "I'll tell you what, John Matsko has done an incredible job with the guys that we brought in."

Carolina coach Ron Rivera calls it the culture Matsko has built on the line. Clark adjusted to that right away.

"He understood our culture," Rivera said. "He understood right away what's expected of you. If you assimilate very quickly to how we do things, you get on the field right away."

Clark hasn't been around Newton long enough to get one of the quarterback's clever nicknames he gives to his teammates.

Perhaps that'll come after the bye week when everything settles down.

Or, perhaps Clark will dream one up while in Houston.

"You know how dreams go," Clark said. "It's just one of those things I remember playing for Carolina and blocking for Cam. Here I am."

-- Texans NFL Nation reporter Sarah Barshop contributed to this report.