NFL veteran Clark receives opportunity to fill void in CFLs' offense

August 26, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

All Robert Clark needed to jump-start his stalled career as a wide receiver was time and opportunity.

Time to heal a nagging hamstring injury; opportunity to show he could still punctuate a precise route with the clutch catch.

Because the Baltimore CFLs gave him both, they've been rewarded with a healthy, polished veteran of five NFL seasons and 165 catches.

Clark, 29, once a prime target in the Detroit Lions' run-and-shoot offense, will make his first start for the CFLs tomorrow night in Hamilton, Ontario, against the Tiger-Cats.

He may be the answer for a position the CFLs haven't been able to fill to coach Don Matthews' satisfaction.

"He's got experience, he catches the ball well, he goes to the right place," Matthews said. "And he helps other people get open."

Clark shows his veteran's savvy even when he is not the intended receiver.

It is a quality, Clark said yesterday, that came with experience.

"After playing for so long, you see things in a different way," he said. "When I was a rookie, all I thought about was catching the ball, getting a lot of yards and scoring a lot of touchdowns.

"Now I'm part of the offense. Sometimes, you have to look past catching the ball or making a lot of yards. I look at helping another guy get open."

Clark said he came to this perspective after his first season in Detroit in 1989, when he had 41 catches for 748 yards and two touchdowns.

"It was the first year of the run-and-shoot," he said. "When I used to look at films, I used to look at myself. Then in the off-season, I started looking at the whole play, seeing the whole play for what it was."

The next season would be Clark's best in the NFL. He had 53 receptions for 932 yards and eight touchdowns. He was established. After another year in Detroit, he was gone.

Gone through Plan B free agency. He played most of the 1991 season with mangled fingers. Two were broken, he said. Another was dislocated and a fourth had ligament damage. Still, he had 48 catches for 801 yards and four touchdowns.

When the Lions made a contract offer that was $200,000 under what they gave two rookie receivers, he opted for the Miami Dolphins.

"I've never been a greedy guy, and I knew I wasn't Jerry Rice," Clark said. "But I had just played a season with two messed-up hands."

He arrived in Miami in 1992 and soon had a messed-up hamstring. Two weeks after the team signed Keith Jackson, Clark was waived.

He planned to sit out the 1993 season and heal. But when former Detroit offensive coordinator Mouse Davis went to Toronto with the Argonauts, he got Clark to join him.

In 14 games with the Argos, Clark pulled down another 50 catches for 900 yards and three touchdowns. In the off-season, he signed with the Atlanta Falcons, then asked for his release when they signed several high-priced receivers.

That brought him to Baltimore in the fourth week of the CFL season. He already had made a mark on special teams when he came up with three catches last week in a 31-24 loss to Toronto. That was enough to push him past rookie Joe Washington into the starting lineup.

Clark, a native of Pittsboro, N.C., and a 10th-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints in 1988, said he is not consumed with the thought of getting back to the NFL.

"I want to get someplace I can stay, where I am appreciated and can play hard," he said. "At this point in my career, this is a good place to be, especially with the injury situation I had. This is like a fresh start for me . . . I'd like to finish my career here."

NOTES: Quarterback John Congemi took the first-team reps yesterday, and injured Tracy Ham (thigh) worked with the second unit. Ham had limited mobility, but threw the ball well. "I get paid to play," he said. Matthews said he won't announce his starter until game time.

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