Sehawks defensive lineman Frank Clark (55) hits Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer (3) after Palmer threw a pass in their NFL game on Oct. 23 in Glendale, Arizona. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Sehawks defensive lineman Frank Clark (55) hits Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer (3) after Palmer threw a pass in their NFL game on Oct. 23 in Glendale, Arizona. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Seahawks’ Clark has huge cleats to fill

RENTON — Frank Clark stooped over his locker at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.

The second-year Seattle Seahawks defensive end was visibly disturbed as he rummaged through the shoe drawer at the foot of his locker, grabbing pair after pair of cleats only to determine them inadequate.

Searching for the right pair of shoes seems a fitting image for Clark’s current situation. After all, he’s been asked to fill some big shoes.

Clark has the job of replacing Michael Bennett at defensive end while Bennett is sidelined after undergoing knee surgery. Therefore, Clark has some high standards to meet.

“I think Mike, no one in the NFL plays the position better than him, simply said,” Clark said. “I think he’s the best at what he does. I’m not trying to replace him or anything, I’m just here to do my job and be the best Frank Clark I can be.”

Bennett, Seattle’s Pro Bowl defensive end, is out after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last Wednesday. He sat out Seattle’s 25-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 30 and is expected to remain out another two to three weeks.

Bennett’s loss is a big one for the Seahawks. How highly is Bennett regarded around the NFL? Check out what Bills coach Rex Ryan had to say about him in advance of Monday night’s game:

“I am so thankful that Bennett is not playing against us because that guy is one of the best players in the league regardless of position,” Ryan said. “You talk about active and making plays all over the place — like I said, I am so thankful he’s not playing.”

But Clark is determined to make the effects of Bennett’s loss as minimal as possible.

There’s no doubting Clark’s talent. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Clark was Seattle’s top pick in the 2015 draft, being selected in the second round amid controversy — an arrest for domestic violence resulted in his dismissal from the team at the University of Michigan. During his rookie season, Clark flashed his potential as a pass rusher, appearing primarily on passing downs and recording three sacks.

Clark has taken a step forward this season. He’s found himself on the field increasingly more with the nickel defense, and his 5.5 sacks through seven games already are nearly double his output from a year ago.

But Clark had never been given the responsibilities he’s now being asked to bear. Last week, he made his first career NFL start against the Saints, and the game was his busiest yet. Clark was on the field for 62 of Seattle 76 defensive snaps, which amounted to 86 percent. Both the number of plays and the percentage were the most Clark ever had — his previous high marks were 55 plays in Seattle’s 6-6 tie against the Arizona Cardinals two weeks ago, and 68 percent of the plays (48-of-71) in the Seahawks’ 27-17 victory over the New York Jets on Oct. 2.

The result against the Saints was the most productive tackling day of Clark’s career as he finished with three solo tackles and three assists. He also had one of Seattle’s two sacks. However, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll stopped short of saying Clark was able to replicate what Bennett typically gives the team.

“He did well,” Carroll said of Clark’s first start. “He can be more precise about his stuff, he missed some good opportunities, he was a little sloppy at times just taking advantage of good technique. But he showed a really good motor and he just continues to show us playmaking. He’s explosive, he makes things happen and he plays really hard, with a good motor that gives us a chance. We’re excited about him to continue to emerge. He’s obviously going to play a lot again this week, and if he played a little cleaner, he could have played a great game last week. That will come.”

One of the consequences of his expanded role is that Clark finds himself on the field on running downs. In his previous role in the nickel defense, Clark could concentrate on rushing the passer. But now he has to be equally adept at defending against the run, something he’s still trying to perfect.

And Clark is aware of the areas he needs to clean up.

“I could have tightened up on some of my technique as far as that position,” Clark explained. “It’s different things that are required when you’re playing the end compared to our LEO position (a pass-rushing position Clark played in the nickel). At the LEO it’s more of a 6-technique, you’re more matched up with tackles. Even with the pressure calls, sometimes you find yourself confused out there with some of the checks and stuff. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to be accountable. You have to be accountable for everything out on that field because it’s your job. I made some plays, got a sack, but at the end of the day it’s about progressing and getting better every day.”

No, Frank Clark may not be at Michael Bennett’s level just yet. But as far as the Seahawks’ are concerned, he’s as good an option as there can be for filling Bennett’s shoes.

For more on the Seattle sports scene, check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at www.heraldnet.com/tag/seattle-sidelines, or follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

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