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With Bowen Out, Clark Is In the Mix

Two weeks ago, Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams, unprompted by the media, praised safety Ryan Clark as playing extremely well on defense.

On Monday this week, Redskins director of sports medicine Bubba Tyer called Clark "one tough kid" when discussing how he plays through injuries.

Then, on Wednesday, head coach Joe Gibbs said Clark was a player who could eventually become a "core Redskin."

So who is this Redskin who has so quickly caught the eye of team officials at Redskins Park?

Would you believe that just a few months ago, Clark was a self-described "suit-and-tie man" while working in the athletic foundation at LSU?

"My wife used to get mad at me because I looked too good going to work," Clark laughed.

Clark, a two-year NFL veteran heading into this season, finally landed a job with the Redskins on July 31, the first day of training camp. His versatility as a cover safety and a special teams standout earned him a roster spot.

It's not the first time Clark has had to go into training camp battling for a NFL roster spot. Coming out of LSU in 2002, he played his way onto the New York Giants' roster and played some special teams before ending the season on the practice squad.

Last year, Clark played in 16 games and started four games at safety, posting 23 tackles, one sack and two pass deflections.

The Giants' new coaching staff decided to go a different direction and waived Clark last April. He was out of football, working at LSU, until the Redskins gave him a chance in training camp.

"I really felt like a long shot," Clark said. "I went from working in an air-conditioned office to playing in 100-degree heat. I was in the [medical] tent on the first day of camp because of the heat and I was preparing my resignation speech. But I stuck with it."

Now, with Matt Bowen sidelined for the season, Clark finds himself in the mix at strong afety along with Andre Lott and Todd Franz. Rookie first-round draft pick Sean Taylor is expected to start at free safety. Bowen suffered a season-ending knee injury in last Sunday's game against Baltimore.

Said Clark on Wednesday: "I'm not sure how they're going to use me yet--I'm just excited to be a more integral part of the defense. Hopefully my nerves will calm down."

Clark believes he fits in with Williams' defense.

"In all my years of playing, it's one of the best schemes I've ever been around," he said. "It's an attack-style of defense and it let's the players play. They prepare us so well. When we make mistakes, it's out fault as players. That's what we're trying to correct right now."

Said Williams: "Ryan is a very smart football player. He plays versus his weakness. He understands how to play the game. Coaches have to be impressed with guys who go full-go the way he does. He's smart enough to make the calls in the secondary, too."

Clark caught Gibbs' eye on Sunday when he tied for the team lead in tackles with nine. He also showed toughness by returning to the field after suffering a mild sprained ankle in the fourth quarter.

"He gets nicked and he's hurt," Gibbs recalled. "He came to the sideline for one play, and then he's right back in there. Things like that mean a lot to me. He just wanted to do his part and help the team. Those are all of the little things that you pick up over a period of time about a person."

Clark, a bright and articulate young man, has been very active in community events. In 2002, during his time with the New York Giants, he joined in on "Operation PaintFest" to paint areas near Ground Zero with children affected by the loss of a loved one due to Sept. 11.

"I met a little girl--she had lost both of her parents in Sept. 11," Clark said. "I stayed in contact with her and I went to her birthday party. It's just giving back. We are all so blessed. Sometimes I think we take things for granted. That situation really grounded me in reality."

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