When the Seahawks play at New England on Sunday night, Frank Clark really hopes there can be a University of Michigan reunion in the Patriots backfield.
More specifically, Clark hopes that at some point in the game, or perhaps multiple times, he can sack fellow Wolverine Tom Brady.
"Hopefully I can get back there in the backfield and get my hands on him a couple times," Clark said.
It isn't that Clark wants to hit Brady because there's any bad blood there. Quite the opposite, really. Clark grew up in Bakersfield before later moving to Cleveland, so as a child he watched Brady, a Bay Area native, blossom into a star with the Patriots. Clark also met Brady when the quarterback visited Michigan in recent years.
"I grew up watching him," Clark said. "When you grow up watching Super Bowls and watching guys like Tom Brady, you have these different NFL dreams, and then you go to a school like University of Michigan, where it just so happens to be another connection we have. He's a legend there and he does great things there, next thing I know we're competing at the highest level you can do it at against each other, it'll be great."
So no, Clark isn't out to get Brady for any personal reasons; he's just trying to continue what has so far been a very impressive second season. A second-round pick in 2015, Clark came on strong late in the season as a situational pass-rusher, finishing the year with three sacks, and heading into this season, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll made it clear they wanted to get Clark on the field more frequently.
That has happened this year, and Clark has responded well, piling up 6.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits. Clark has started the past two games in place of an injured Michael Bennett, meaning even more playing time, and responded with a sack in each game, giving him 3.5 in the past three games.
"He's taken some major strides in how he's studying the game," defensive end Cliff Avril said. "You can tell he's paying attention to the game, he's asking questions, he's watching film. Those are all thing you have to gradually pick up and grow with, so you can see how he's matured."
Clark's maturation has been especially important in the past two weeks in Bennett's absence, with Clark going from a situational pass-rush role to being nearly an every-down player.
"Just for him to be able to step up and make some plays is huge," Avril said. "As a player, you never know when you'll get that opportunity, and he's taking advantage of it and making plays happen. So big ups to him, but the hardest thing to do in the NFL is to be consistent, so that's the type of thing that as an older guy you try to put in his head—keep grinding, don't get complacent. He's doing some good things."
Whatever lessons Avril, Bennett and the rest of Seattle's veteran linemen are teaching Clark, he's all ears, and taking to that advice has been a big part of his breakout second season.
"I got guys like Mike Bennett, Cliff, Big Rube (Ahytba Rubin), Tony McDaniel, those guys, we got those guys in the locker room, and even off the field, helping me to the highest capability that they can," Clark said. "That all transfers over to the field, they just help me and continue to work with me. Mike Bennett and Cliff, me being a rookie (last year) who really didn't know what was going on, just playing off instinct and things like that, to actually having a guy like Mike be able to break down different aspects of the game, having a guy like Cliff teach me how to rip off the edge, it's great."
Despite a much bigger workload the past couple of weeks, Clark says he isn't changing anything about the way he plays. Theoretically having to play more snaps could force a player to pace himself a bit, but Clark said that hasn't been the case the past two weeks, and won't be when the Seahawks play Sunday.
"I never pace myself for all the years I've played this sport," Clark said. "Starting with the two years professional dating back to when I first started. I never really believe in pace, it's really a mindset of just going. I'm a ball hawk and I pride myself in getting the job done and going out there and giving them my all every play. If I mess up or do something wrong, just know I'm going to do it 100 mph."
The Seahawks obviously are eager to get Bennett back from a knee injury, and their defense will only be that much better when the Pro-Bowler does return, but for the time being, Clark has held his own as he continues to build on an impressive second season.
"He's getting better," defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. "Obviously we want to improve on situational awareness, but that's everybody, that's each and every single day. He's doing a great job filling in for some difficult shoes to fill."