Colts Tight End Dallas Clark Helps Younger Teammates Adjust To The Pros
TERRE HAUTE – An NFL player's rookie year is one they will likely never forget, and even more so, one they likely would never want to repeat.
Adapting to NFL life can be difficult at first. Whether it is mastering a massive playbook, dealing with heightened competition on the field or just learning how to conduct yourself off it – it is not a journey to be navigated alone.
Which is why Colts tight end Dallas Clark is so grateful to have had Marcus Pollard when he came into the league in 2003 and why No. 44, who now holds the team's single-season records by a tight end in receptions, yards and touchdowns, is one of the first to offer advice to his younger teammates.
"I'm not sure I can do for these guys what Pollard did for me, but I'm trying my best," Clark said. "My thing is just leading by example and trying to do things right, and if they have questions I try and answer them the best I can."
Clark recalled one of his first practices as a Colt and watching Pollard, who was in the eighth season of his 10-year tenure with the Colts, and staring in amazement at how easy things came to the veteran.
"Pollard would be going through practice, working hard, and barely be breaking a sweat and I'm over here dying running around and trying to learn everything," Clark said. "I was just so impressed."
"I thought to myself, 'I'll never be that good' or 'I'll never be where he is right now,'" Clark said.
But Clark was fortunate enough to have Pollard, a fellow tight end, take him under his wing and show him the way. Pollard helped the rookie with his receiving, route running, blocking ability and tried his hardest to answer any and every question that popped into the first-year player's mind.
"I couldn't ask for a better veteran to show me what the NFL was all about," Clark said. "He taught me so much."
With five tight ends in camp with two years of NFL experience or less, Clark has a cast of younger players looking to follow in his footsteps. And while Clark is modest when comparing himself to Pollard's standard, the young tight ends in camp think differently.
"On or off the field, you can come to Dallas and ask him anything," tight end Gijon Robinson said. "He's been a great guy to me and I've benefited so much from him. I'm able to feed off of him, feed off his energy."
Robinson said that while he studies Clark's technique on the field, its Clark's attitude that impresses him the most.
"If he ever makes a mistake, which is rare, he says, 'I did the wrong thing, this is what I need to do,'" Robinson said. "I watch him do that and it's easy for me to approach the situation in the same manner."
When on the practice field, Clark admits he keeps an eye on the younger players at his position without crowding them.
"I'm not harping in their ear all the time…but if there's something I see that's just a little thing, I might say, 'Hey, think about this' or 'You might want to try this' – little tidbits like that," he said.
Since his first training camp when he had Pollard helping him when he would commit a mistake, Clark said he feels a "night and day difference." He said he tries to be available and help the younger players as much as he can while avoiding "over coaching."
"The young guys are picking it up quickly, and it's a tough offense to learn, but everyone is responding really well," Clark said. "We don't have many mental mistakes, and the ones we have we're not doing twice."
Colts wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, in his third year with the team, is another player who has turned to Clark and other players for advice.
"I would ask (questions) to anyone who would listen to me," Gonzalez said with a laugh.
Now Gonzalez, like Clark, finds himself as a starter on the Colts and the subject of admiration to many of his younger teammates.
"Having a veteran that helps and is willing and able to answer questions always helps," Gonzalez said. "I think (wide receiver) Austin Collie does a good job of asking questions…which is kind of how I was when I came in. I think that will only help him in the long run."
As Clark and Gonzalez see it, they have something that benefits the team's rookies and younger players. Something that veterans, like Pollard, once passed down to them.
"Experience," Gonzalez said, "is the best teacher, no question about that."