After signing with the Ravens during free agency, Earl Thomas quickly learned about Chuck Clark's intelligence.
Thomas was trying to learn Baltimore's defense and he listened intently during meetings with the secondary. It was clear to Thomas that Clark, a backup safety, was the most knowledgeable player in the room. Clark was that person you remember from high school, the one who always raised their hand in class.
Clark knew the defensive terminology like the words to his favorite song, which made Thomas, a six-time Pro Bowler, ask Clark a question.
"I was like, 'Bro, why would they bring me in when they've got you?'" Thomas said.
The remark drew laughter from the media Wednesday, but Thomas was very serious about Clark's feel for the game. Now with veteran safety Tony Jefferson lost for the season after Sunday's knee injury in Pittsburgh, the time has come for Clark and DeShon Elliott to step up in Jefferson's absence.
Clark feels more than ready. This is his third season with the Ravens, a sixth-round pick from Virginia Tech who has been itching for more playing time. On many teams, Clark may have already earned a starting role. But during his time in Baltimore, established veterans like Jefferson, Thomas and former Ravens safety Eric Weddle have forced Clark to wait his turn.
Now Clark's time is finally here. If Clark starts Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, it won't be a totally new feeling because he started two games last year after Jefferson suffered an ankle injury. However, the circumstances are different this time and Clark feels it.
"Last year, I was in a situation where you knew Tony would be back," Clark said. "This year, I'm in there for a longer haul. I'm ready."
Clark has earned kudos for his smarts, but he also wants to prove he's a playmaker. In one of his two starts last year, Clark had an interception against Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, taking advantage of an errant pass after the league MVP was flushed out of the pocket.
Ranked No. 1 overall defensively last season, the Ravens are ranked 21st heading into Week 6. Giving up big plays as been an issue, and Clark hopes his presence will play a role in preventing some of the defensive miscues that have hurt Baltimore's defense. If there's one player the Ravens expect to be in the right place at the right time, it's Clark. He takes film study very seriously because it has helped him become a better player.
"Just understanding the whole defense, making calls, knowing where to be, being very reliable," Clark said. "Just being a football player, a student of the game. Before you go out there, you've got to know what you're doing. You need to be prepared."
Clark played a season-high 16 snaps against the Steelers after Jefferson went down, and his snap count figures to be much higher Sunday against the Bengals. Clark believes playing next to an established veteran like Thomas will be a huge plus. They have a good rapport and Clark believes their chemistry will carry over to the field.
"We're building that chemistry and it starts with communication," Clark said. "You get a feel for it in practice and then it carries over into games. It's a process but I've been here long enough to feel comfortable in this defense."
This is also an exciting time for Clark off the field. He and his wife, Aysha, are expecting their first child on Oct. 15, a baby girl. Clark smiled when asked about it.
"I can't wait," Clark said, beaming.
He also can't wait to become a bigger part of the Ravens' defense. There's going to be a lot of new responsibility on his plate.
But Clark isn't a rookie being thrown into the fire. He's a third-year player ready to seize an opportunity.
"I've been waiting for this for three years," Clark said. "Now it's here. It's time to take advantage."