OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott have each waited their turns to be a regular on the Ravens’ defense.
Clark has just two career starts as he found himself mostly buried on the depth chart for the last three seasons in Baltimore. Elliott, a second-year pro, missed all of last season with a fractured forearm.
But after Tony Jefferson’s season-ending knee injury last Sunday in Pittsburgh, both Clark and Elliott are due up next to play crucial roles at safety.
“You can't really predict what the numbers will be exactly,” coach John Harbaugh said of splitting playing time with the two. “I think they'll be fairly balanced. It could go in one direction or another, but expect both of those guys to play quite a bit in the game."
Clark seems the most ready, however, to replace Jefferson, who tore his “at least” his ACL.
In his fourth season as a Raven, teammates have raved about Clark’s intelligence on the field and in the classroom in preparing for games.
In fact, it’s the first thing that stood out to fellow safety Earl Thomas when he arrived in Baltimore this past offseason.
"Yes, I saw it the first day at football school,” Thomas said. “He was on it. He was just like a starter. I was like, 'Bro, why are they bringing me in here when they've got this guy?' So, I have total trust in him and DeShon."
Clark has just three starts in his 36-game NFL career, but has been prepared for this moment since he entered the league as a sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech.
“He’s just a good football player that loves to study the game,” defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “And you can see it out there. You could see it in practice yesterday. He loves the game of football, and he loves our defense. He knows all the checks, and it’s like that for him.”
The other player pushing for the spot is Elliott, who has yet to register a start in his NFL career and has just five tackles in five games this season.
That still doesn’t make him feel any less ready to take on new responsibility.
“I’m always ready at all times,” Elliott said. “So, the fact that it happened this early, it’s a positive and a negative. A negative that ‘T.J.’ went down, but next man up. I take advantage of my opportunities. I say I’m a ball player. I’m going to keep balling. I’m going to make my plays, and just do me.”
Jefferson still will hang around the Ravens facility acting as a leader and provide a steadying veteran presence, but now, the job will be up to Clark and Elliott.
“Now, it’s time to take that step,” Matthew Judon said. “Football is a game of injuries, and you hate to see it happen, especially to a guy like Tony — to a leader like that. But I don’t think there’s going to be any drop-off with those two other guys.”
But for both of them, it was a long time waiting to get the chance to prove what they could do in a bigger capacity. Elliott’s was related to his injury and Clark’s was due to the talent on the Ravens roster but neither matters now.
The two will get their first crack at impressing the Ravens coaching staff on Sunday.
“I’ve been waiting for this,” Clark said. “It’s three years coming, now it’s here. Time to take advantage.”
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