After an impressive preseason that saw him record a tied-for-an-NFL-high two forced fumbles and more tackles (15) than any player at his position, Seahawks rookie defensive end Frank Clark has been relegated to a backup role through Seattle's first nine regular season games.
Granted, it's been tough defensive line rotation to crack, with Clark listed as the backup to Seattle's sack-leader Michael Bennett and with the ever-active Cliff Avril lining up on the other side. But according to Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, Clark, the team's first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, will likely see an increased workload this Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers given the absence of linebacker Bruce Irvin (knee), who's typically used as a pass rusher in the nickel defense.
"Frank, he's played well enough and positioned himself to be there for this opportunity and we're real excited about the future," Carroll said Wednesday, also noting second-year defensive end Cassius Marsh would see more play time with Irvin out. "I think he's got a lot of cool stuff that he can do."
In the eight games Clark has played this season - he was inactive in Week 6 with a hamstring injury - he has averaged playing 31.6 percent of Seattle's defensive snaps, a number that includes a season-high 46 percent in the team's Week 7 win over the Niners. He's recorded eight tackles and a quarterback hit on the season, including two takedowns in this past Sunday's loss to the Arizona Cardinals. In a recent interview with 710 ESPN Seattle, Clark said he's starting to feel more comfortable within the Seahawks defense.
"It's been great, man," said Clark. "I believe I'm around a great set of guys. I don't believe there's a different situation I would've felt more comfortable in coming in as a rookie. I think the guys have done a great job of helping me transition from being in college and they continue to do a good job to this day."
"I think Frank is a very good player," Avril said. "He's growing each and every week, which is great. He's picking up on the plays. This is all about fine-tuning small things that us vets sometimes take for granted. We're just trying to coach him up on those little small things. He's coming along very well. He's a very aggressive player, he's very physical, and those are the two things that you can't really teach as a D-lineman. He has all the tangibles."
Avril believes Clark has what it takes to "step right in and make some good plays" for the Seahawks, so long as he doesn't try to do "too much."
"It's just playing the scheme the way it's supposed to be played," Avril said. "Like I said, he's very physical, so he's definitely ready for the workload. Now it's just about making it happen."
With Irvin out, Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard said he foresees both Marsh and Clark playing a "huge" role against San Francisco. Exactly how much each player plays is still to be determined, but with more plays expected Clark said he's looking forward to building a pass-rushing rhythm, something he's found difficult to do in a reserve role.
"That's very tough because number one the game of football is all about rhythm, especially when you're playing on defense," Clark said Thursday. "I believe once you get into that rhythm, once you get comfortable, that's when you start seeing guys playing fast. That's when you start seeing guys making those plays, those great plays that's talked about for years. That's something I look forward to doing.
"Like I said, man, I like the platform and I like how coach Carroll wants to set up, and however he wants to set up, I'm ready to take advantage of it."
It was a crisp and clear fall day along the shores of Lake Washington as the Seahawks prepare to take the ball away against division rival San Francisco 49ers.