Packers taking leap of faith with acrobatic WR Michael Clark
GREEN BAY - The play that made wide receivers Randall Cobb and Davante Adams lose their minds belonged to undrafted rookie Michael Clark, a former Division I basketball player trying to make it in the National Football League.
Clark, who played one year of college football at Marshall, took off down the sideline on a go route during Thursday’s practice inside the Don Hutson Center. The ball was heaved downfield.
Cornerback LaDarius Gunter ran stride for stride with Clark, who has a four-inch height advantage, and quickly realized the type of athletic ability Clark possesses. When the ball arrived, Clark leaped into the air and plucked the ball from over Gunter’s head for a miraculous catch that had his fellow receivers roaring with delight.
“The man got some hops,” cornerback Josh Hawkins said. “He got some hops. I mean, it’s nice. He got some hops and he can catch.”
Said Clark: “When I watched it I’m like, ‘How did I do that?’ It’s a reaction, kind of. A lot of encouragement from the guys. Obviously they see what I can do now, so now they start expecting it.”
It was at least the second occasion in which Clark’s prolific aerial ability has come to light in the first week of training camp. Two days earlier, Clark made a similar grab over the top of cornerback Lenzy Pipkins. At 6-5 ½ and 215 pounds, Clark is a difficult matchup down the field. His timing, hand-eye coordination and 33-inch vertical leap only add to the potential peril.
“We always talk about him around the room,” rookie wideout Malachi Dupre said. “We talk about first of all his basketball background and the ability to translate those skill sets used to rebound and high-point a basketball and be able to translate that over to a football field. He has great ball skills. Davante and I were talking yesterday, not even on those deep balls and balls he gets to go up there and high point and use his size, but he has a great natural catching ability for all balls. You see he’s very comfortable catching the ball no matter what type of throw it is. He’s just another guy in our room that is very dominant and feel like can help us.”
In his own words, Clark is “very, very, very raw” as a football player. He played one year of high school football in Florida before quitting to focus on basketball. He earned a scholarship to St. Francis (Pa.) as a stretch four who loved to dunk and shoot three-pointers from the top of the key.
But after one season in Pennsylvania — he scored six points and grabbed six rebounds — Clark wanted to give football another chance.
“I gave up my full scholarship, I became a walk-on and had to find a school,” Clark said.
He landed at Marshall thanks to a connection with an old AAU basketball teammate. Clark sat out the 2015 season due to transfer rules and caught 37 passes for 632 yards and five touchdowns in his only year on the football field. Then he declared for the draft and was not selected.
“I never really had a favorite (sport),” Clark said. “I just always felt like I had to pick because I wanted to give full attention to one. I was always a better football player.”
Clark’s inexperience makes him a legitimate project for the coaching staff. He admits that he knows almost nothing about football, and many of the fundamentals that are second nature to receivers are still new for Clark. He has struggled at times on special teams, which are even more foreign.
But there are very few receivers who are that tall, that athletic and can run the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds. Clark is intriguing, and that’s why the Packers brought him to camp.
“He’s been able to get out there and show his ability,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “But really based on his background, he has a long ways to go. Yes, you definitely can see the ability, and that’s obviously a step in the right direction.”
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