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Clark leads receivers in struggling offense

Chris Federico | Thursday, September 18, 2003

Quick, name the player who leads the Irish in receiving yards through two games this season.

Would you believe tight end Jared Clark?

Are you serious, Clark?

Neither senior leader Omar Jenkins, star sophomores Rhema McKnight or Maurice Stovall, nor freshmen phenoms Jeff Samardzija or Chinedum Ndukwe have been able to surpass the converted quarterback Clark’s mark of 67 yards receiving.

In addition, Clark’s six receptions on the year place him in a tie for second on the team with McKnight and one behind Jenkins.

With Notre Dame’s leading receiver a tight end, questions abound as to the effectiveness – or lack thereof – of head coach Tyrone Willingham’s West Coast offense so far this season.

“Obviously we’re not doing very well offensively right now,” Clark said.

“We’re going to need to step it up, and I’m sure we won’t end the season with me as the [No. 1] receiver. But as a tight end, you love to catch passes and get down the field with them.”

But people in the Irish system point not so much to Notre Dame’s ineffectiveness in the passing game, but Clark’s evolution as a solid tight end as explanation for his leading stats.

“A tight end is a receiver also,” Jenkins said. “There’s no reason for concern if the tight end has receptions. It’s a good thing for the team and the offense if the tight end can block and receive at the same time.”

Part of what has made Clark one of Notre Dame’s leading receivers in 2003 could be the senior’s pedigree as a quarterback in high school and his early years at Notre Dame.

As a former signal caller, himself, Clark has a good base of knowledge in reading defenses and cover schemes, which has aided him in finding openings in the defensive backfield.

“Playing quarterback helps you understand where everyone is going to be, so it helps you understand what relationship you need to get with the other receivers and defensive backs,” Clark said. “As far as running routes, I’ve just gotten better at it. But it’s been me playing the position for a while that’s made me a better tight end.”

Clark’s ability to find holes in the zone and break off patterns has come in particularly handy in the first two games this year, as the Irish quarterbacks Carlyle Holiday and Brady Quinn have found themselves under heavy pressure from the pass rush. With little time to throw, it is helpful when experienced receivers break off routes and run shorter patterns to get open in a hurry.

“I can kind of understand what the quarterbacks are going through, even though I didn’t really get into any games while I was a quarterback here,” Clark said. “It’s tough when you’ve got people in your face all the time, and it’s tough when people are hitting you every time you release the ball.”

Even with his solid numbers in the early Irish season, Clark realizes that he still has a long way to go in his development of becoming a complete tight end.

“I think I have a long way to go before I peak,” he said. “There is still a lot of things I can be better at, and hopefully I am getting better as we go.”