ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — A few choice curse words ring out throughout the practice field on a sunny afternoon in Missouri as one man – a highly paid, highly animated and completely football-obsessed defensive end wearing No. 55 in white – issues a non-stop barrage of verbal challenges to any teammate that would listen.
This is Monday, the Kansas City Chiefs’ first padded practice of training camp, and Chiefs fans, who are allowed to stand around the practice fields at Missouri Western University, gawk and giggle as the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder keeps yelling louder, talking more and growing more powerful by the second as he accosts his teammates on offense.
To hear him tell it, this scene – this spectacle – is all their fault, anyway. Their crime? Daring to run the ball to his side during the first play of 9-on-7.
“I told you don’t run it my way! Better boss up, little boy!” the center of attention, Frank Clark, bellows to whichever poor soul had the misfortune of trying to block him on the first play from scrimmage. “Don’t run that weak-ass [expletive] my way! What the [expletive] wrong with you, boy!”
But the next two plays, the Chiefs’ offense decides to runs it at Clark again, which once again yields nothing except more Clark trash talk.
“Run my way for what?!” Clark bellows after the third straight foiled rush attempt. “Can’t get [expletive] my way. Big dog, big dog!”
Clark’s verbal jabs elicited cheers from Chiefs fans, who were impressed with his show of dominance. They weren’t the only ones. Trust and believe the scene just described was also enjoyed by the Chiefs’ higher-ups – welcomed, even.
After a 2018 season that came to a crashing thud in the AFC championship game due to the defense’s inability to get a stop when it mattered, Clark’s combination of passion, aggression and production (32 sacks over the previous three seasons) was a big reason head coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach surrendered a first-round pick to Seattle for a 26-year-old that they believe can win the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award as soon as this season.
What’s more, the Chiefs were also comfortable handing Clark a massive five-year, $104 million contract, largely because they knew his non-stop motor, cultivated during a rough childhood in which he was homeless in Los Angeles for stretches at a time, wouldn’t be going anywhere. Because of his past, Clark has a distaste for complacency – “that’s when you start falling off,” Clark told Yahoo Sports – and refuses to take what he has for granted, as evidenced by the on-field juice he’s brought since signing with the Chiefs.
“He loves to play,” Reid said, “and that’s the part you love about it. It’s infectious, all the way across, both sides of the ball. It’s a great thing.”
Clark has been jawing at teammates ever since organized team activities, it turns out, constantly prodding and cajoling in hopes of raising the competition level of each practice with his words. He learned the benefits of this in Seattle, where the Seahawks built a recent champion by stressing competition and mental toughness.
“I feel like the edge I play with, it can rub off on the next man,” Clark said. “It’s that underdog mentality of feeling like nothing I do will ever be good enough, so I’ll always do more, I’m going to always compete harder, I’m going to always go harder than anybody else.”
Clark’s attitude has already earned him the respect of his teammates, too.
“I think when you know you’ve got another guy that’s truly a warrior, that’s the kind of guy you want in your foxhole,” safety Tyrann Mathieu told Yahoo Sports.
But don’t underestimate the importance of Mathieu, 27, in the Chiefs’ defensive leadership equation in 2019. A former All-Pro in 2015, Mathieu has a quieter on-field demeanor than Clark, but is respected among his peers and is expected to be a steadying influence on his younger teammates.
Internally, the hope is that Clark and Mathieu – who the Chiefs made a priority in free agency and signed to a three-year, $42 million contract – will team up to form the soul (and spine) of a revamped defense by leading from the front, holding teammates accountable and giving much-needed edge to a unit that has been far too pliable under pressure for too long.
“They work hard every single day, whether it’s the weight room, meeting room or it’s on the field, and I think that’s earned them the respect of the guys,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes told Yahoo Sports. “Obviously, they’re vocal and they say stuff to everybody and get people in the right places, but it’s about them working and their work ethic has really carried over for the entire team.”
Even if Mathieu and Clark have contrasting leadership styles.
“Tyrann’s someone who is gonna do everything the right way, who’s gonna go out there and put people in the right spots – he’s gonna lead by example,” Mahomes said. “Frank obviously does the same, but Frank’s someone who will get in your face and let you know if he beats you, which you need on your team. So I’m excited to have that. He’s gonna push the team every single day and it’s gonna make us better in the end.”
Clark chuckled heartily at he and Mathieu’s different styles, though he believes they’ll balance each other out.
“Honey Badger, he’s gonna be in the cut waiting for something to pop off,” Clark said. “I’m front line. I’m going to war. I’m front line with it. I gotta be. Man, we’re the perfect combination.”
You could see other little examples of Clark being “front line with it” throughout Monday’s practice, too. Like the fourth play of 9-on-7, for example, when Clark shoved tight end Deon Yelder to the ground during a run play, only to see Yelder pop up and hop in Clark’s face as the two started jawing.
“Find somebody else, coach!” Clark yelled. “Don’t run it my way!”
But the moment also seemed to energize the practice, as the offense eventually matched the defense’s intensity, and Mahomes – who was warned by Clark at one point that he won’t have as much time to throw during training camp as he did last year – later connected on some big plays that elicited cheers from the crowd.
“I’m like a laid-back missile, and I think Frank is more so the rocket missile. All it takes is to just push his button and he’s gonna go,” Mathieu said. “I’m more so just the guy who’s trying to keep everybody composed.
“I think we’re gonna feed well off each other, especially on game day when the intensity gets high … and I think in the spring, I think we fed off each other a lot, communicating with each other outside of the building. So I think it’s gonna be fun.”
Especially if Clark is as amped up for the actual games as he seemed to be throughout Monday’s practice.
“I couldn’t wait [for today],” Clark said.
He was then asked if it was as fun as he thought it would be.
“Of course [it did], man. This [expletive] is fun, man. It’s football.”
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