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Tale of the Tape: Le’Raven Clark has mixed performance in first game at right guard

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

After the Colts announced that Jack Mewhort would be placed on injured reserve with a nagging knee injury, offensive line coach Joe Philbin had to shuffle around his players to put together a starting group once again. Second-year tackle prospect Le’Raven Clark spent much of this summer and training camp working his way into somebody’s doghouse and lost his battle for right tackle. He first lost the battle to Denzelle Good, who went down with an injury almost immediately, and then was passed over for the job again when the Colts moved Joe Haeg into the starting role over him.

Injuries to other players along the offensive line may finally give Clark a chance to prove his worth and make it difficult for the coaches to take the spot away from him again. Of course, this time he will have to do it at guard, a position he hasn’t played since his early years at Texas Tech.

In this feature, we will take a look at how Clark performed as a run and pass blocker. There are some strengths and weaknesses of his game, and it will take some additional practice and continuity in his new spot to work out some of the kinks.

On the very first rushing play of the game, Clark is able to simply lock up the defender in front of him and drive him out of the play. Given that the defensive line was already going to Clark’s left, this was a relatively easy block to make. It should also be noted that these kinds of blocks were relatively common in the running game.

Clark engages in a more balanced posture with DaQuan Jones (#90) and has to control the engagement with leverage. He is able to get his arms into Jones and win at initial contact, closing out the play by pushing him out of the hole and giving Gore a clean rushing lane.

Here Clark keeps his focus on Jones long enough to shut down any chance he has on making the play, and in order to make it easy for Haeg to maintain his block, he keeps his eyes at the second level. Once he sees the linebacker try to come back inside toward the rushing lane, he releases and gets a body on Avery Williamson (#54). It didn’t play a role in the outcome of this play but it is the right instinct.

The biggest reason this play didn’t go anywhere is that Ryan Kelly gets tossed aside by Austin Johnson (#94). Johnson was able to get a lockout on Kelly on initial contact and keep his eyes in the backfield. When he saw the hand-off, he used the leverage he had on Kelly’s right shoulder and the momentum that Kelly already had moving to his left to throw him away and meet Gore in the hole.

While this isn’t the most graceful release in the world, Clark is able to get a body on Jurrell Casey (#99) and hands him off to Kelly. He then gets to the second level and forces rookie linebacker Jayon Brown (#55) to deal with a pretty large man in his face.

For those playing the blame game at home, this play is stopped because left tackle Anthony Castonzo and Jeremy Vujnovich were ineffective blocking Karl Klug (#97). At the start of the play, Vujnovich needs to get a body on Klug and be prepared to pass him off to Castonzo. As you can see, there is no actual resistance from Klug’s left side, which leaves Castonzo one-on-one but out of position.

Vujnovich has the right idea when he released to keep Wesley Woodyard (#59) from crashing through the hole on his backside but he needs to explode off of the snap and get Klug back on his heels to successfully allow Castonzo to finish. When he fails to do this, Castonzo is left getting the chair pulled out from under him.

This is another example of a relatively easy block, but what I like is that Clark again keeps his eyes ahead of him while he is teaming with Haeg to get some real push in the running game. When he moves to his left at the end to pick up the linebacker it is natural and easy for him to do. If anyone gets a body on Kevin Byard (#31) Gore has a chance to pick up some extra yards on this play.

The biggest issue I noticed in the film on Clark from the Titans game it is that he sometimes struggles with balance. In this case, DaQuan Jones chose to side-step and swim over Clark’s block. This means that Clark has been lowering his head on run blocks and trying to generate push without properly engaging the defender.

He must keep his eyes up, use his hands to engage and lock onto the defender, and then gain leverage. The problem? The film tends to suggest that he is uncomfortable trying to “catch” the defender when they decide to move laterally and read Clark’s first move. He needs to play with more balance.

This is an example of Clark continuing to play effectively with his teammates on the line by placing a combo block to help Haeg on the outside after Kelly comes over to engage David King (#95). Keeping his head on a swivel and being ready to help is what you want to see.

This is an easy block because there isn’t anything exotic dialed up to create pressure on his side but once he and Kelly have DaQuan Jones under control you do see him looking to his right to potentially release and help. In this case, Derrick Morgan (#91) simply rushes the edge and tries to push Haeg back into Brissett, but if he tried to release and loop back around, Clark would have been ready to help.

This is essentially a one-on-one block for Clark against Jones. He keeps Jones from getting inside and when Gore releases he also chips to give Brissett even more time. If he is able to control the leverage one-on-one like this on most blocks, he will do just fine as a pass blocker.

Of course, the problems is that he can’t always control the leverage. As we mentioned on the whiffed run block above, Clark is awful when an athletic defender decides to play lateral and make quick steps and moves in front of him at the start of the play. Here he is in quicksand when Jones makes a stutter step at the snap and moves to his inside. He never gets his hands on Jones and by the time his hands are up and his legs are ready to move along with him, it’s too late.

Wouldn’t you know it? I criticized Jeremy Vujnovich earlier because he didn’t get a good push on his defender to make a successful pass off to tackle Anthony Castonzo. Here, Clark takes an extra step to his right to be sure to get a punch and setup Haeg for success but that extra step makes him slow to react to the stunt. This brings pressure right in Brissett’s face — which “forces him” to make an awful decision to throw into blanket coverage on T.Y. Hilton.

The difference between this play and the one with Vujnovich is that the defender is not taking a big step toward the middle of the line. He is playing vertically toward Haeg instead. He has to read that cue and be prepared to manage Derrick Morgan’s stunt quicker.

This is a difficult block to make as Jurrell Casey runs right at the spot Haeg vacates at right tackle. Right from the snap, Clark has to make up for the fact that Casey has outside leverage. He is never able to do so and this allows Casey to escape and put pressure on Brissett — he nearly gets enough of his leg to get a sack.

On a play like this, if Clark knows what Haeg is going to do, his first step needs to be lateral to his right. He has to be prepared for the fact that Haeg will not be there and try to cut off that outside lane immediately. He doesn’t, so he never has a chance.

Let’s face it, for a guy who had to get ready to take over at right guard on short notice, Le’Raven Clark did a reasonably good job. He allowed some pressure on Brissett, and he whiffed on a run block or two, but otherwise, he played pretty well and showed some positive signs that he can build off of.

He better get to building quickly because he won’t get much of a break against the Jacksonville Jaguars defense this weekend.