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How Chuck Clark’s Virginia Tech career molded him into the Ravens’ unheralded standout

How Chuck Clark’s Virginia Tech career molded him into the Ravens’ unheralded standout

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Chuck Clark has made a career out of making the smallest of details have the biggest impact.

A starting safety since Week 6, Clark has had a quiet influence on the defense, both in his personality and how he’s allowed the unit to thrive through the team’s 12-game win streak. 

But those roots can be traced to Blacksburg, Va., where Clark starred at Virginia Tech from 2013-2016. He played games in four seasons and was a leader that coaches and players could rely on to put people in the right place and settle things down.

Under Hokies coach Justin Fuente in 2016, Clark was a similar person to what he is now: quiet, unassuming and intelligent. And just like what he’s done in Baltimore, he never wavered in the face of adversity. Even if he doesn’t say much, Clark is someone that’s always had a calming effect on the people that interact with him.

“Our Sunday practice, win or lose, we do a special teams drill first thing after stretching, every single day,” Fuente said. “(Every day), he gave me a little pat on the back like, ‘We’re going to go get it this week.’ And that was a really small thing, and it was really big. Just knowing you’ve got a player, whatever happened the day before, he’s ready to go attack the next week, that was really special.”

Clark, a three-star safety from Suffolk, Va. in the southern part of the state, only had two scholarship offers coming out of high school: Virginia and Virginia Tech. He chose the Hokies.

In Blacksburg, he grew exponentially off the field under former defensive coordinator Bud Foster and defensive backs coach Torrian Gray. That’s where Clark felt he had his best chance to get a leg up.

“The DB’s that I was with in college, we had a bunch of five-stars, four-stars, I was coming in as a three-star and just trying to learn the defense,” Clark said. “Our DB coach, he made us learn all the positions. He made us learn corner, dime linebacker and safety. I think that’s just carried over to the NFL.”

Clark, who took the time to learn every position on the defense, has played just about every position too. 

At Virginia Tech, he played safety, cornerback, nickel corner and occasionally slid into the box as a linebacker. He also handled the majority of the checks for Foster’s defense, not an easy task for someone as demanding and intellectual as Foster is. 

“He was a Virginia Tech kinda guy, meaning a guy that would be a team-first player, his ego was not that big, that he would be a special teams guy as well as play for you on defense,” Foster said. “Just like he’s done with the Ravens. He’s already played several roles (in Baltimore), that’s kind of what he did here.”

Clark set things in motion for the Hokies’ defense and was known as the lead communicator on the defense, one that was routinely one of the best in the ACC. 

But while Clark stood out with his play on the field, the opposite was true away from the field. 

One of the Hokies’ most vocal players during games and practices was one of the quietest when not in uniform. That’s one of the first things Fuente, who took over the Virginia Tech program in 2016, noticed right away.

“Part of the reason he’s not talking all the time off the field is because he’s listening to what other people are saying,” Fuente said. “It’s a little bit unique that you have a guy that’s a great football communicator that’s a quiet guy off the field, but in my opinion, it’s because he’s a very good listener.”

Clark helped lead the Hokies to the 2016 ACC Championship Game, where they lost to the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers in Fuente’s first season after taking over for legendary coach Frank Beamer.

Even today, Virginia Tech coaches will jump at the opportunity to talk about Clark’s play on the field, but also what kind of person he was away from the field.

“He was a guy I could depend on and trust as much as anybody I’ve had in my 25 years as a coordinator,” said Foster, who recently retired.

Clark ended up a sixth-round pick of the Ravens in 2017 and played special teams for the majority of his first two years as a pro before 2019, his third as a Raven.

Then, in Week 5 in Pittsburgh, safety Tony Jefferson suffered a knee injury and was lost for the season. Clark, who’d only played 52 combined snaps in the first four games, jumped into the lineup. The following week was the first in a stretch where Clark played every snap on defense. 

Since his start against the Bengals in Week 6, he’s missed one defensive snap all season. 

When he entered the lineup against the Steelers, the Ravens were 2-2 with a host of questions on the defensive side of the ball. Communication issues plagued the Ravens defensively and they allowed 300-plus passing yards in three of the first four games. 

Since then, no team has passed for more than 268 yards and the defense rose to sixth in the NFL in pass defense. 

“As far as the communicator, as far as the checks, as far as just the football smarts, he has become that (Eric) Weddle, that Magic Johnson of the defense of getting people lined up and setting them up to make plays, as well,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “He's had a tremendous year, and I'm really happy for him.” 

Clark has played all over the field, too, sometimes moving down into the box in a sub-package to play a dime-linebacker role. He’s got an attribute that allows him to thrive there, too.

“I would definitely say being faster than linemen getting to the spot,” Clark said in early December with a grin.

Teammates have raved about Clark’s intelligence and football IQ since he arrived in the lineup, something old lessons were able to help him out with.

“When I first got here, I was learning the defense,” Clark said. “That’s what I would do, I would learn all the positions on one play and then I would go to the next play.”

Clark only has one interception this season and just two in his career. He isn’t a ball-hawking safety and is overshadowed by names like Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters and Earl Thomas, but his impact on the secondary can’t be overstated this season. 

His quiet demeanor and persona off the field are translatable to his play on the field. And just like at Virginia Tech, he’s thrived in a role that’s one of the most under-appreciated on the team.

“There’s people that come through your program that you have touch with as a football coach that you’re supposed to influence in a positive way,” Fuente said. “And every now and again, there’s somebody that comes through your program that influences you as a coach in a positive way. That’s Chuck Clark.”

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Ravens are releasing safety Tony Jefferson after three seasons in Baltimore

Ravens are releasing safety Tony Jefferson after three seasons in Baltimore

The Ravens are releasing safety Tony Jefferson after he spent three years in Baltimore, the team confirmed Friday.

The NFL Network's Ian Rapoport was first with the news.

“This is the worst part of this business,” general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement released by the team. “Tony is the consummate teammate and someone who is respected by everyone for his leadership, determination, humility and toughness. He’s a friend to all and a true Raven.

"We know he’s going to beat this injury, and we will be cheering for him all along the way. We wish the very best to Tony and his family.”

 

 

The safety suffered a knee injury against the Steelers in Week 5 and was out for the remainder of the season. He was replaced by Chuck Clark, who shined in his new role and received a three-year contract extension on Monday as a result. 

The Ravens will save $7 million by releasing the 28-year-old safety. He originally had a cap hit of $11.65 million for the 2020 season and will have a dead cap hit of $4.65 million. 

Jefferson started each of the 35 games he played in Baltimore and registered a total of 174 tackles and two interceptions across his three seasons. He played nearly every defensive snap before his injury, only coming off the field during the blowout over the Dolphins in Week 1. 

He spent the first four seasons of his career in Arizona before he left for Baltimore and a four-year, 34 million dollar contract. 

According to overthecap.com, the Ravens will be left with a touch over $31 million in cap space after Jefferson’s release. In an offseason with Matthew Judon as a free agent, Jefferson’s release gives them a little bit more flexibility with their offseason plans. 

The Ravens now have Earl Thomas and Clark as the team’s two top safeties, but there are still questions that persist for the depth at that position with Jordan Richards, who recently signed a one-year contract extension, and DeShon Elliott as the team’s backups currently under contract. Brandon Carr, who played safety down the stretch for the team, has a team option for 2020. 

While the safety position certainly isn’t a need for the Ravens at this juncture, there will almost assuredly need to be some younger talent added to the position. 

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Ravens offensive lineman James Hurst suspended for violating NFL’s performance-enhancing substances policy

Ravens offensive lineman James Hurst suspended for violating NFL’s performance-enhancing substances policy

The Ravens will be without one of their backup offensive linemen to start the 2020 season, as James Hurst was suspended by the NFL for four games without pay after he violated the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Hurst made two starts and appeared in all 16 games for the Ravens last season. He played a total of 194 offensive snaps as a utility offensive lineman, predominantly used as a swing tackle and offensive guard.

Hurst, 28, who signed a four-year contract extension with the Ravens in 2018, is owed $8 million in base salary over the next two seasons, both of which carry a cap hit of $5.25 million.

He also has a dead cap hit of $2.5 million in 2020 and 1.25 in 2021, should the team decide to move on from the former North Carolina Tar Heel. The team would save 2.75 million dollars in 2020 should they release him.

Hurst has played 90 total games in his career in six years in the NFL, all of which were with the Ravens. 

The offensive line is slowly becoming more of a need for the Ravens with Hurst’s suspension. That’s in addition to Matt Skura’s recovery from a knee injury and the potential of Marshal Yanda’s retirement.

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