Damone Clark is a special character in the Dallas Cowboys universe. There are some fans who show no sense of familiarity with him or his story. For the ones that do know of him, however, he has quickly become one of the most beloved and supported members of the Cowboys defense.
Just a snippet of our conversation today and what it means for him to be back on the field. Be sure to catch the full story on Pregame Live this Thursday before the game! pic.twitter.com/dQ7EE8r4vQ
Leading up to the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, rumors were already swirling that the Cowboys were interested in drafting the LSU linebacker. Clark was a two-year starter for the Tigers and an anchor of their defensive front, helping them capture the 2019 national championship. A second team All-American in 2021 and Dick Butkus Award finalist, many expected him to be drafted in the second round at the latest.
Before his impressive showing at the Combine, though, the Dallas medical staff delivered the news that the young prospect had a herniated spinal disc. At the time, the issue wasn't causing any pain or negative effects for Clark, but for competitive athletes, herniated discs have been associated with back pain, muscle weakness, nerve damage, and career ending complications. After getting a second opinion on the matter, Clark opted to undergo reparative surgery, and his draft stock plummeted as a result.
The Cowboys elicited a lot of criticism when they moved ahead with drafting Clark in the fifth round. It was considered a surprising decision despite the Cowboys' history of taking calculated risks on players in similar situations in the past.
How Stars are Made
Clark underwent spinal fusion surgery to repair the disc. Medical professionals said that the procedure would keep him off of the field for the entire 2022 season and could possibly hamper his ability to be the same game-changing defender fans saw when he was at LSU.
Tangentially related, it is a bit ironic that a different type of fusion, nuclear, is the catalyst for the creation of the stars that shine in the night's sky. Another component necessary for the creation of stars – pressure. But while gaseous stars are formed under gravitational pressure, it was situational pressure that put Damone Clark in the spotlight when he made his defensive debut against the Chicago Bears.
When the Cowboys activated Clark, he was expected to be relegated to special teams as part of the process of acclimating him to the speed and ferocity of NFL football. That plan changed suddenly with two minutes and twenty seconds left in the first half of the Weekm8 matchup against Chicago. Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr was sidelined with a hamstring injury, and Clark went on to participate in 40 defensive snaps. He recorded five tackles as the Cowboys played to a 49-29 victory over the Bears.
Since then, the rookie linebacker has recorded five more tackles on the season: two against Green Bay and three more during the Cowboys' stomping of the Minnesota Vikings. Against the Packers, Clark logged only 7 snaps, but that number jumped to 43 against the Vikings.
What's to Come for Clark?
With Anthony Barr unlikely to play against the Giants, many are expecting and rooting for Clark to continue to get more playing time.
After the win over the Bears, Clark told reporters that he's “pushing to be ‘LSU Damone' or better.” In his last college season, LSU Damone recorded 135 tackles (15.5 for loss), 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. The anticipation of seeing that version of Damone Clark is what has landed the rookie in the same conversations as Cowboys star Micah Parsons as two of the defensive weapons making Dan Quinn's defense both “relentless” and “terrifying.”
As of right now, who's to say that fans won't see that type of performance from Clark some time soon? Some may call it unlikely, but even the experts considered him to be unlikely to play at all this season. He's already defied the odds by even being on the field. He's already gone above and beyond initial expectations. It's not terribly unreasonable to believe that he could go from being a risky draft pick to being a a force to be reckoned with all within a year.
In the coming weeks, fans will see if he gets more chances to prove himself. He seems to welcome the opportunities and whatever pressure may come along with them, and instead of combusting under said pressure, supporters of his are expecting him to shine.