When the Baltimore Ravens lost starting tight end Dennis Pitta to a season-ending dislocated hip injury, the franchise and general manager Ozzie Newsome were scrambling for answers and looked to aging veterans like Visanthe Shiancoe and Dallas Clark to fill the void of No. 88.
After Shiancoe was shockingly handed his walking papers earlier this week as he was cut by Baltimore, many people who follow the organization feel as if that automatically locks Clark in as the No. 2 tight end behind starter Ed Dickson.
I am not of that sentiment for several reasons.
First, his inability to block in the running game. During the 34-year-old’s stint with the Indianapolis Colts, Clark was largely relegated to coming out of the slot to catch passes from quarterback Peyton Manning. It was rare to see the former Iowa Hawkeye ever in a three-point stance or lined up on the line of scrimmage because the Colts simply lacked a legitimate and consistent running game that required tight ends to be quality blockers. With the departure of Anquan Boldin at the wide receiver position and Pitta’s injury, the Ravens will take a more concerted approach to playing traditional Ravens football by pounding the football on the ground.
Second, lack of athleticism. Clark was never a world-beater in terms of speed and never will be. His ability to get open in the seams may have been attributed to the plethora of targets in Indianapolis for Manning to throw to or just Clark’s innate raw abilities. At 34, his already lackluster speed has been further diminished, and for a guy who spent the entire offseason spending time with his family in Iowa, it may take longer than expected for the rust to wear off.
Third, inconsistency catching the football. This has been the biggest eyebrow-raising trait I’ve seen from Clark in his small cup of coffee with the Ravens. He has always been known as a guy to go over the middle, make the tough catch, avoid contact at times and get up field with the football. Sure, there’s tread on his tires, but his hands shouldn’t disappear. Maybe he finally needs to cave in and wear gloves?
Clark will probably make this team based purely on his name and history in the NFL. Given the limited action he saw Thursday against the St. Louis Rams, the tight end seems like a virtual lock at this point to at least snag some reps in two-tight end sets in 2013.