Monday, May 5, 2003

Colts pleased with new TE

By Michael Marot
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS - Dallas Clark passed his first test in the Indianapolis Colts' offense this weekend.

For three days, he ran crisp routes, made tough catches, demonstrated he could go over the middle or down the field and turned heads.

No, he wasn't flawless but the Colts saw enough in five practices to know they made the right decision by drafting Clark in the first round.

"He's doing everything we thought he'd do," coach Tony Dungy said. "He's learning what we're doing and he's a very eager guy."

The Colts gave Clark just six days to cram for his first NFL exam, a mandatory mini-camp that wrapped up Sunday in the RCA Dome.

Although few rookies ace it - Clark included - he managed to draw rave reviews by maneuvering his body to catch underthrown balls, showing he could catch in traffic and using his speed to create mismatches.

Clark, a converted linebacker who played on Iowa's Big Ten co-championship team last season, probably would have preferred more contact to demonstrate his physical skills, too.

But after three days, he discovered the NFL is a different brand of football.

Players are bigger and faster than in college and with an offensive-minded team like the Colts, Clark will be learning from some of the league's top talents.

Instead of catching passes from Heisman Trophy runner-up Brad Banks, he spent five practices working and learning from three of the NFL's top offensive players - three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning, two-time rushing champ Edgerrin James and NFL record-holding receiver Marvin Harrison.

Yet Clark, the 24th pick overall in the draft, received the most scrutiny as he tried to prove he was a good fit in the Colts' system.

"It's a lot more detailed offense," he said. "I know I'm not just going to be a tight end. I might be the flanker, I have to know the wide receiver position, I have to know all of it."

Clark welcomes the challenge.

At 6-foot-3, 257 pounds, the Colts believe he can be a major contributor as a receiver and a blocker, and after just one weekend, even Clark's teammates were impressed.

Marcus Pollard, the Colts' top tight end last year, took some time off this weekend to rest and as a result got a chance to watch the player who could make the Colts' two-tight end formations formidable again.

Afterward, Pollard couldn't hide his smile.

"Hopefully, with Dallas, things will work out for the better for both of us," he said. "We'll both get some balls, we'll both stay in and block."

Most impressive was the fact that Clark didn't appear to be slowed by the complexity of the offense or the hectic pace of the week.

While studying his new playbook, he also had to accept his new status as the biggest celebrity in Livermore, Iowa.

Travel was another challenge.

He flew from Iowa to Indianapolis and back April 26, shortly after the Colts selected him, then was back in town Thursday for physicals. He had an afternoon practice Friday, two practices Saturday and two more Sunday.

Clark's biggest concern was that he didn't believe he played as well as he should have.

"I tried to realize that I'm just beginning and that I'm going to make mistakes," he said with a smile. "It's hard with my mentality and personality to accept that. I'm just trying not to make the same mistake twice."

But the Colts weren't complaining.

Rather, Clark proved to be everything they had hoped.

"He's a very natural receiver and he's hungry to learn," Dungy said. "That's the important thing."

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