Chris Clark can pick Ryan Clady's brain without even talking to him.
It sounds crazy, but what Clark means when he says this is he has spent so much time -- two seasons, now -- backing up the Broncos' left tackle that to simply watch tape is to get a conversation's worth of advice.
He'll need it now. On Sunday, Clady suffered a Lisfranc sprain in his left foot, which could keep him out for weeks, if not months. (The Broncos have not released a timetable.) Down a three-time Pro Bowler who missed not a single game in the first four years of his career, Denver now turns to Clark, an undrafted player-turned-practice squad member who finalized a two-year contract extension within hours of Clady's injury.
Not exactly tit for tat.
It has been a wild week for Clark, but he's taking things in stride. To fans who might worry he'll be an inadequate replacement, his message is to relax, and he seems unconcerned with how long his counterpart will be out. In fact, he hasn't even asked him.
"It really doesn't matter," Clark said. "I'm here to do a job, and my job is to start for however long. That's what it's going to be. I've always viewed myself as a starter. In this league, you can't view yourself as a backup."
Clark's big preseason minutes will go a long way toward getting him comfortable among the starters on Monday against the Raiders, and he said his camaraderie with the offensive line is in good shape. He has a solid grasp on Peyton Manning's rhythm, too, which will help him protect the blind side of perhaps the NFL's best quarterback, and he knows said quarterback will be watching in these first days of his promotion.
"You might mess up on something, and Peyton will get it corrected then and there," Clark said. "Once you get it corrected, you don't make that mistake again."
Plus, Clark will have something of a cushion by way of the situation he inherits -- not that it'll affect his approach. Right tackle Orlando Franklin, who has played every offensive snap of 2013, has been responsible for allowing only a single quarterback hurry and not one of the three sacks of Manning. In addition, Manning himself goes a long way toward making his offensive linemen's lives easier; his average release time, according to Pro Football Focus, is 2.48 seconds, seventh-best of any quarterback this season. That's an improvement over 2012, when he averaged 2.50 seconds per release, which was second to only Tom Brady.
When Clark lines up for his first start of 2013, he'll see one of the NFL's most precious commodities to his right and thousands of screaming fans in every direction. It's pressure personified, but to him, it's just an opportunity.
"Every player still gets nervous," Clark said. "I'm sure Peyton still gets nervous before every game. That's going to be there. But I'm so excited about getting this opportunity."