Jets G Adrian Clarke has moved into the Pete Kendall's starting spot with relative ease. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Opportunities rarely came the way of OL Adrien Clarke in the beginning of his NFL career. Injuries hampered his first year and Clarke saw limited action during his second. To top it off, he was let go before the start of last season by the Eagles and did not play a game. Yet, even with that rough beginning, Clarke still pushes on as the New York Jets’ starting left guard.
During his college days, Clarke was of the key cogs on the offensive line for the Ohio State Buckeyes along with Jets teammate Nick Mangold. Clarke was then drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL Draft. However, an injury cut short his rookie season and was put on injured reserve in the beginning. In the next season, he was able to have a healthy full season got some action, starting in the final four games of the season for the Eagles and playing in 13 total.
The following season hit Clarke even harder; he was cut by the Eagles prior to the season and did not see any action with any team that year. Rather than dwell on what happened before and show regrets, he acknowledged what he went through as mere growing pains.
“To me it was a learning experience,” he said. “It’s always hard to be sitting down on the side and wanting to play, but it got to the point where it was just about being prepared because you never know when you will be called on.”
As most Jets fans know by now, this off-season veteran G Pete Kendall was very vocal about his frustration with the Jets organization. His disruptions resulted in him being traded to the Washington Redskins halfway through the preseason. With Kendall gone, the Jets experimented with giving both Clarke and rookie Jacob Bender opportunities to win the starting job. The test gave mixed results, but ultimately the position was awarded to Clarke, who wasn’t expecting it until Gang Green’s week one match with New England.
“I didn’t know anything until a couple of days before the game. I was just preparing myself to get better and improve my game,” he said.
Ever since he took hold of the starting left guard position, Clarke has made whatever adjustments were necessary in order to play a role in the Jets offense. In addition, he is looking to build on those improvements to keep his job.
Head coach Eric Mangini has taken notice and admired his progress. Yet as always, there are some areas where he would like to see Clarke fix.
“I think he's done a lot of good things and there are some things he needs to continue to work on,” said Mangini.
Other coaches, meanwhile, made it known that he has been impressed with the man who was part of the Ohio State Buckeyes’ national championship squad in 2002.
“He’s like any young player. He’s starting to grow and getting more comfortable in his role,” said offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. “He’s doing a good job with the things we are asking him to do. He’s had a good plan each week in practice to try and build on those things that maybe he felt he could get better at than the previous game.”
Coaches Mangini and Schottenheimer are not the only ones that are impressed with how Clarke has done this season. The man that Clarke protects, quarterback Chad Pennington, also spoke highly of him and how he’s improved.
Said Pennington, “Adrien has mixed in nicely and he’s starting to get better and better.
“He's one of the guys that I think has started to see how important communication is. He has seen the success that he can have as an individual, as well as on the left side of our line, when these guys communicate. He's improved each week and he just keeps working hard at it.”
The Jets coaching staff stresses the characteristic of strong communication within certain positions of the team, and the offensive line is no exception. It is that aspect that has been an important component for Adrien Clarke’s success so far. Interacting with veteran teammates Anthony Clement and Brandon Moore has enabled him to hone his skills.
“They have been in the game and in starting roles for a while,” Adrien said. “Week in and week out they get the job done. They may not get all the glitz and glamour but they do what they got to do.”
Along with this communication with teammates, learning from o-line coaches such as Mike Devlin and Tony Wise was also crucial.
“[Devlin] is very helpful and informational,” Clarke replied. “He and Tony Wise have done a darn good job helping me with my technique.”
Clarke, along with the rest of the line have been struggling and are looking to improve run blocking. Currently the team is only averaging 77 yards rushing per game. However, the line has been improving weekly with their pass blocking. A big test was this past Sunday when the line only surrendered one sack against the Giants who the previous week had 12 against the Eagles.
Adrien Clarke’s beginnings surely have been rough on him as soon as he hit the field. To Adrien, however, it’s all a part of making it to the big time. And with these events now over and done with, what matters most to him is that he now has the opportunity to play amongst the top tier NFL players, in an important position for his team. With a full time starting role now under his belt, Clarke knows what necessary adjustments he must make to keep it that way. And each and every one of those adjustments could solidify his stay on the starting line.