Cowboys rookie Damone Clark shines in NFL debut despite the odds

Jul 27, 2022; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Damone Clark (33) during training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 27, 2022; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Damone Clark (33) during training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Former LSU Tiger Damone Clark was supposed to be an early-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The linebacker was deemed a top-50 talent but fell all the way to the fifth round after a Dallas Cowboys medical staffer at the NFL Combine discovered that he needed spinal fusion surgery to fix a herniated disk in the linebacker’s neck.

The rookie started his career on the non-football injury (NFI) list and the odds were against him making his debut any time soon.

Many believed Clark wouldn’t play at all in his rookie year, but the Cowboys saw something special in the young linebacker despite the injury. The rookie underwent surgery in late March and waited patiently for a chance. Stephen Jones even predicted before training camp that Clark would play this season despite doubts around the league, leading people to think the LB could be one of the true steals of the draft.

On Sunday, just 220 days after his surgery, Clark was deemed active. The former First-Team All-SEC player hadn’t played a snap since leaving LSU for the draft. He didn’t even see the practice field during training camp, preseason, or the start of 2022 until his 21-day practice window began less than a month ago on October 5.

To many people’s surprise, Clark was cleared just three days ahead of the Week 8 contest. The plan was to ease him back into things, but the opposite happened.

The rookie was thrown into the fire when veteran LB Anthony Barr unexpectedly went down with a hamstring injury in the second quarter. Clark went from being expected to commit only a bit on special teams to participating 51% of the Cowboys’ defensive snaps on Sunday.

Cowboys rookie Damone Clark has impressive outing after beating injury odds and participating in Week 8

Not only did Clark “participate” on both special teams and defense, but he shined. After Barr got sidelined from his injury, Clark was there to fill in the pieces.

He took 40 defensive snaps and still helped out by being part of 59% of special teams plays for a combined total of 67 reps on the day after being told he may not even play this season.

His veteran teammates, like Leighton Vander Esch, were incredibly proud:

"“Damone has been preparing his butt every single day this offseason, since the second he came in. He’s an extremely hard worker and very smart. He was super amped up to play. I  know he’s gonna be a great fit for us on defense. He’s gonna be a really good football player for us, but he’s an even better person. His character is what’s gonna make his NFL career great.He communicates well with me and everybody, and he [attacks] the ball. We need guys like [him] on this defense.”"

Clark ended the game as the second-ranked tackler on the team with six tackles and even got a chance to show off his speed. While chasing down speedy QB Justin Fields on a rush that ended up being called back after a Chicago holding, the young linebacker sped down the field to make a tackle.

Regardless of the flag, Clarke was clocked at a wildly impressive 22.19 MPH (more than 1 MPH faster than Parsons on his impressive Week 7 stop), while chasing down Fields.

The rookie also missed zero tackles in almost three quarters of work in his first-ever NFL game after a serious surgery. His performance should help his confidence and adds yet another boost to an already impressive Dan Quinn defense.

The LSU product was more than ready for the moment. He’d been waiting and preparing for it for seven months:

"“I got threw in the fire. I had to step up. You know I had to help the team win.The way I prepare. I prepare as if I’m getting in and playing the entire game because you never know when that time might get here and that time got here today. I had to step up today.”"