CARDINALS CORNER

Kei’Trel Clark ‘grateful’ for benching that made him better player, person

Dec 1, 2023, 4:00 PM

TEMPE — It didn’t take long for Kei’Trel Clark to make his mark with the Arizona Cardinals as a rookie.

Five starts and a whole lot of snaps through six weeks were proof he had what the Cardinals were looking for defensively.

But just as it looked like Clark was at the very least be a mainstay in the secondary through the remainder of 2023, he suddenly went from an every-down starter to bench warmer.

After four weeks of seeing at least 98% of available defensive reps, Clark saw that number drop to 49% and 56% the next two matchups before things really took a turn.

As we’ve seen and heard from defensive coordinator Nick Rallis and head coach Jonathan Gannon, “roles constantly change from week to week.”

In Clark’s case, his role vanished into thin air behind zero snaps in Week 7, followed by a pair of healthy scratches. He then turned in two games solely working as a special teamer, seeing zero defensive snaps in Weeks 10-11.

Instead, it was fellow rookie Starling Thomas and/or veteran Antonio Hamilton were suddenly getting the nod with Clark watching off to the side.

Clark, however, used the benching and overall challenge from the coaching staff as a chance to step back and a get a bird’s eye view of what he needs to accomplish.

“I had to get back to the drawing board,” Clark said Wednesday. “I had to really assess myself, really go back and look myself in the mirror and watch extra tape on myself instead of my opponent, because you got to assess yourself first, so you can be the best you out on the field.”

Clark clearly took his and the coaching staff’s advice during his defensive layoff, building himself back up enough to earn a start and 88% of the snaps on D in last week’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

And while Arizona walked out of State Farm Stadium with its 10th loss of the year, Clark produced throughout the tilt, tying for the team lead in tackles alongside safety Budda Baker with nine and showing the buildup he was showing Gannon and Co. in practice the past few weeks wasn’t a fluke.

“That’s the mark of a professional,” Cardinals defensive backs coach Patrick Toney said Friday. “He didn’t let circumstances dictate his preparation. He did a good job, whether he was in the mix early on or he wasn’t, he continued to grow and develop, get better schematically, work his technique day in and day out.

“I think that’s a real testimony to him and how he’s gone about his process to stay engaged, stay ready. Every week is different, he’s done a good job of stepping in when he’s needed.”

No one ever wants to get benched, especially at the highest level of play and after making a handful of starts as a rookie.

Confidence can get shaken and second-guessing can creep in if you let it.

Clark, however, wouldn’t have it any other way, not only appreciating the wake-up call but also using the moment in time as fuel moving forward.

“I wouldn’t be right here, right now if I didn’t go through some adversity,” Clark said. “When I came in the doors, things were pretty good. I got to see the glitz and glamours of things. And then when I got benched, I got to see the hard side of this, too, fast. I got to see the good and I got to see the not so good just like that. I’m grateful for it. I wouldn’t take it back, because it made me a better player and a person as well.

“Right now, I’m just attacking every single day and I embrace it a little bit more than I did before. When I first was starting, I embraced it, but not as much as I do now, because I know that it’s hard to be a starter in this league. I embrace that.”

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