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Michigan Football: Breaking Down Versatility, Skill of Wolverines' Frank Clark

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Michigan Football: Breaking Down Versatility, Skill of Wolverines' Frank Clark
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Frank Clark could be the surprise star of Michigan's defense in 2013

The Michigan Wolverines defense is in need of a jolt. 

Not to say that one of the country's most improved unit is lost now that Jake Ryan is out of the mix with an unfortunate ACL injury, but Michigan has to come up with creative solutions to replace the energy of its finest linebacker. 

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has a supply of ready linebackers to emerge. Cam Gordon, Desmond Morgan, Brennen Beyer, James Ross and Joe Bolden will do just fine this season.

It's not impossible, but unlikely, for any of them to have a Ryan-like fall in terms of impacting the defense.

Ryan is of another breed. 

But Frank Clark may be the exception. 

Now that the lineman/linebacker has put on weight and gained strength, he could provide a jump-start if the defense is sluggish. The junior-to-be is a versatile specimen capable of adapting and moving from spot to spot. 

He wants to play wide receiver, according to a recent piece by Angelique Chengilis of the Detroit News. Her piece also highlights the buzz that Clark has generated within the Wolverines coaching staff. 

"Frank really truly believes he can play wide receiver as a D-lineman," Jibreel Black told Chengilis. "He probably could run a few routes, maybe some comeback routes. He did a couple routes (on scout team last year). He looked pretty good, too."

Chengilis writes: Clark said recently he would hope his 40-yard dash is in the "high 4.5 range."

Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said there were a number of plays in a recent practice where Clark ran 30 yards downfield.

"And he looked like a sprinter," Mattison said.

Offensive opportunities may be few and far between for Clark, who entered Michigan as a 3-star prospect. However, if he truly does possess a wide receiver-like skill set, he'll become an increasingly more valuable asset to coach Brady Hoke. 

Can Clark replace Ryan, at least in terms of effort and energy?

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Imagine passes tipped at the line. Some linemen have stone hands and allergic reactions to catching the ball. Their job is hard enough, and you want them to catch too? 

Probably not going to happen with most. But Clark would get his wish by contributing to the offense by creating it with an interception. He's proven effective against speed-driven spread offenses and he's rugged enough for trench wars.

 

Breaking Down Frank Clark

 

Frank Clark introduces himself to Braxton Miller in 2012.

Big Ten football followers already know that Clark is quick off the edge. He demonstrated that this past November during Michigan's 26-21 loss to Ohio State.

Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller is an incredible athlete who can outrun just about any defensive player. However, as the above video will illustrate, Miller got caught sleeping and paid the price thanks to a courteous take down from Clark. 

Ryan rushed passers with a fearless rage. Clark can keep that energy level up and deliver freight train hits like his sidelined teammate. 

Clark had four tackles, three of which were solo. 

 

He's Ready to Take Charge

 

Frank Clark discusses the desire to put forth an extra effort in Jake Ryan's absence.

Be sure to watch this interview in its entirety. Reading a quote is one thing. Hearing Clark say that he wants to be a game-changing contributor is reassuring; he has the desire to come through as a junior.  

As you'll see in the video, Clark broadcasts a genuine excitement; he knows the defense has an immense void to fill and he wants the responsibility. 

 

Clark Can Make Clutch Plays

 

Frank Clark knows where to be and when to be there. That's a quality Jake Ryan also has.

Remember Michigan's narrow 38-31 victory over Northwestern? Clark helped stand up the Wildcats on two drives in overtime to secure the win. Clark doesn't have a problem reading quarterbacks' movement, so he's able to keep pace and adjust accordingly to the play. 

Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark's connection didn't work on third down, as you see in the following footage at 4:00. On the next play, Clark dropped in coverage, Colter didn't have a target so he ran. 

And Kenny Demens was there, thanks to the help from Clark and others, to meet Colter immediately.

Clark had four tackles, with half of them being a solo effort.  

 

Clark's Patience Is Indicative of an Intelligent Defender

 

Frank Clark helps Michigan contain Braxton Miller.

Although most of them look like they run around with their hair on fire—coaches actually tell them to do so—guys like Clark are actually careful calculators of their next move. You'll see at the 4:30 mark of the above video how Clark's patience against the Buckeyes' offensive line in 2012 puts him in an advantageous position to defend against Miller. 

Clark didn't make the tackle. Ryan and co. easily penetrated the Buckeyes line and took down its fleet-footed quarterback. But had Miller escaped like he so often does, Clark was ready to lay a hit. 

This is the season for Clark to blossom. He was always a player that, for some reason, seemed cheated by a 3-star grade. His skill set is expansive. Clark is an athlete who can rejuvenate Mattison's defense and overcome the hardship of not having its "quarterback."

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines lead football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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