Kickoff returning is anything but an individual endeavor — especially when so much of a runback’s potential yield revolves around just how well the blockers out front take care of their duties, creating holes through which the returner can fly.
But even the decision to sprint out of the end zone with a kickoff can be a collaborative endeavor. It was for rookie Brian Clark on Sunday, as the tumult and speed of his first regular-season game meant that he had to lean upon Cecil Sapp for immediate guidance as to whether he should take one of Adam Vinatieri’s kickoffs beyond the goal line.
“I told Cecil, ‘I’m going to be running. You’re going to have to stand in front of me,’ because I was just so geeked up,” Clark said. “He’s face-to-face in front of me, because he knew I was excited and that I wanted to go.”
Clark fielded seven kickoffs on Sunday. He downed five for touchbacks, but returned the other two for 27 and 23 yards, giving him a 25.0-yard average — which gave him the team’s lead for the season. Nevertheless, he judged himself harshly.
“I would probably give myself a C-minus, just because I hold myself to a high expectation and you can kind of play armchair quarterback and sit back and watch film and say, ‘If I would have only seen that (hole),’” Clark said. “There’s a lot of things that I know that I’m able to do once I calm down, so that’s why I give myself a C-minus, because it was just sub-par.”
And if not for Sapp’s presence …
“I was going to take every single one of them out,” Clark said.
That was the former North Carolina State standout’s perspective before the game. As proceedings progressed, however, he began to understand on his own how to be more discerning in his decision-making.
“Some of them, you just know,” Clark said. “Four yards deep in the end zone, I know I just can’t take them out. But two, three yards deep? With Cecil, a clock goes off in his head because you’ve got to kind of measure the time that it’s in the air.
“See, I’m not worrying about that,” he continued. “I’m worrying about catching the ball, running and going, whereas Cecil, a clock goes off in his head, and if the hang time is more than four seconds, he knows we can’t take it out, because he knows those guys are covering pretty well. I think that’s something I’m going to have to work on, because I was just wired.”
But with a 25.0-yard average, Clark is also off to a good start.