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Journeyman Clark Is Manning’s New Protector

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Chris Clark (credit: CBS)

Chris Clark (credit: CBS)

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Chris Clark has a message for all those Denver Broncos fans fretting that their Super Bowl aspirations could be derailed by Ryan Clady’s foot injury: Relax, I got this.

“There it is,” Clark said with a wink and a smile. “There it is.”

Clady, the three-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro and former first-round draft pick who has protected Peyton Manning’s blindside since the four-time MVP arrived in Denver last season, is expected to miss at least a couple of months with a sprained left foot.

Clark, a fifth-year journeyman who went undrafted and spent his first two NFL seasons on the practice squad, will get his first career start at left tackle Monday night when the Broncos (2-0) host the Oakland Raiders (1-1).

Anybody would be a downgrade from Clady, who allowed just one sack in more than 1,100 snaps as Manning’s blindside protector last season. Clark, whose only career starts came at tight end during the Tim Tebow era in Denver, promises, however, that he’s not going to be the weak link.

“That’s what drives me. I don’t want to be THAT guy,” Clark said. “… So, my preparation, I try to be A-1 with it, just staying on course just to make sure the offense doesn’t miss a beat.”

While the team hasn’t specified the exact nature or extent of Clady’s injury, it’s believed to be a Lisfranc sprain, which usually involves a separation of ligaments and joints in the foot and requires an arduous rehab after a minimum of six weeks in a cast.

Clady was hurt in the closing minutes Sunday when Giants defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins rolled up on him while the Broncos were trying to run out the clock in their 41-23 win.

The Broncos are still contemplating their options with Clady. Among them: placing him on season-ending injured reserve or on IR with a designation to return, which would keep him out a minimum of eight weeks. That’s a special one-time-only provision of IR that would allow Clady to return to practice in six weeks and rejoin the roster in Week 11, at the earliest.

Either way, their new left tackle is Clark, who went undrafted out of Southern Miss and spent his first two years in the NFL on Minnesota’s practice squad. A measure of Denver’s confidence in him came over the weekend when he agreed to a two-year extension through 2015, which he signed Monday.

“I think they like me here,” Clark said.

Clady wasn’t in the locker room Tuesday, but Clark said he’s talked to him and his spirits are high. However, he didn’t ask him how long he expects to be out.

“You know why? It really doesn’t matter,” Clark said. “I’m here to do a job and if my job is to start for however long, that’s how it’s going to be. Like I said, I’ve always viewed myself as a starter. In this league you can’t view yourself as a backup, so I prepare as if I’m going to play every week.”

The Broncos moved into the top spot in The AP Pro32 power rankings this week, thanks mostly to Manning, the first NFL quarterback ever to throw for nine touchdowns with no interceptions in the first two weeks of a season.

Denver leads the league with 90 points and the Broncos are only the third team in the last three decades to score 40 or more points in each of their first two games. The others are the 2009 Saints and the 2001 Colts, who were led by Manning.

Manning can thank Clady for his comfort zone and clean jersey, but now it’s Clark who’s his personal protector.

Clark said serving as Clady’s backup for three seasons has prepared him for this moment.

“I’ve been behind Ryan for a while now and I’ve learned a lot, so I can pick his brain without even talking to him,” Clark said. “Just trying to do things the way he does things, mimic things he does, but put my own twist on it is pretty much the way I play. I feel everything will be OK.”

Plus, Clark put in plenty of work with Manning this offseason while Clady, whose dominance and durability led to a $52.5 million, five-year contract, was recuperating from right shoulder surgery.

“That definitely helped a lot,” Clark said. “You get a chance to learn different things, snap counts, learn his rhythm.”

Clark is confident, not cocky. He said his sole aim is to make sure the Broncos don’t miss a beat now that he’s the Broncos’ starter, something he’s been preparing for ever since Denver claimed him off waivers from the Vikings on Sept. 5, 2010.

“It’s not about filling a guy’s shoes for me,” Clark said. “… My thing is just protecting Peyton and pushing forward.”

Notes: FS Duke Ihenacho (sprained right ankle) tweeted that he’ll definitely play Monday night. He leads the team with 18 tackles.

By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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