We will be featuring a different Washington Redskins player each day on this list, staying away from rookies or some second-year players still finding their way. This will focus primarily on veterans at or near a career crossroads. Today: safety Ryan Clark.
Why he has something to prove: Any player still in the NFL at age 34 has something to prove (heck, they all do, but stay with me here) -- and he turns 35 during the season. Can’t imagine anyone ever expected this to be the case way back when he was an undrafted and undersized safety, but Clark developed into an excellent player because of his toughness and smarts. But Pittsburgh let Clark leave, opting for someone younger and faster (Mike Mitchell). Word out of Pittsburgh was Clark had lost a step. That’s not surprising given his age. Clark was never a burner and relied on knowing where to be and when. Clark often lined up a little deeper, sometimes 20-25 yards in certain coverages and depending on the offense, to compensate for any lost steps. A quarterback who throws with anticipation could take advantage of any lost steps. Clark will need help from the pass rush so any slowing down doesn’t become an issue. He did play in the box when warranted and covered backs on occasion.
What he must do: Make the plays that are available. Clark is not and never has been a playmaker. What he has been is a tough-minded, physical and smart player. You can't have a tough defense without such players, and the Redskins did not have enough of them defensively in recent years. The Redskins could have used a guy like that in the secondary for a long time. When watching his tape from last year, it’s evident Clark still likes getting involved in the action, coming up hard against the run, for example. Maybe Pittsburgh saw that less than it had in the past, but compared to what the Redskins have had, it’s an improvement. His intangibles are real and, provided he can still play, he’ll be a leader. That much was evident this spring. But Clark will have to show he can still come up and tackle; he did so for the most part last season (career-high 104 tackles) -- though there were some misses. How will he handle an offense like Philadelphia's that demands good open-field tackling? Dallas and New York also will use the entire field. The Redskins just need steady, reliable play at safety. If Clark provides that, he’ll be a good one-year investment.
Projection: Starting free safety. Unless Tanard Jackson shakes off two years of rust and unless Bacarri Rambo improves dramatically, then Clark is the guy. The other two can’t touch him in intangibles. The question will be what is the impact on Jackson having missed the past two seasons? But Clark does well anticipating plays and alerting others as to what might be coming. That helps. Linebacker London Fletcher used to do that, too, but it was clear in 2013 that he was done. The Redskins hope Clark has one more solid year left, and he can perhaps mentor some of their younger players.