by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
On today's Off The Bench episode, host and former Tiger T-Bob Hebert asked about starting linebacker Damone Clark's struggles last year, asking Coach Orgeron exactly how and why he had a hard season in 2020...especially after coming on as an electric freshman throughout 2019:
Coach O had this to say about Damone and it got me thinking: "You know one thing Damone and I sat down and talked about was being more physical at the point of attack. And I myself personally thought he might (?) using his hands. So, he's been using his hands more, he's been taking on blocks more, how to take on blocks, I don't think he's ever been shown how to take on blocks the proper way. So, he's doing that a lot more. He's been very vocal, he's been a leader...and I think one of the things on defense, 'let's put it on the coaches to put our players in the best position to make plays and teach them the fundamentals of the technique they need to make those plays...and that's my goal this spring."
So I ask you dear readers:
Can Damone Clark have a bounce back season after struggling / suffering through 2020?
Amassing 63 tackles last campaign, the linebacker finished second behind Jacoby Stevens in the tackles department...although these stops usually came 20-30 yards down the field....
In the lead-up to 2020, Damone was seen as the best linebacker on the team alongside Jabril Cox; the junior National Championship winner and Devin White protege had a blistering 2019 campaign, coming off the bench mostly to produce 4 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 50 tackles as well as smashing QBs Trevor Lawrence in the title game, Tua Tagovailoa in the True Game of the Century, Jalen Hurts during the CFP Semifinal and plowing Jake Fromm in the SEC title game (among others)...
Clark was a lean destroying machine amid Aranda's 3-4 set up, flying towards the ball with passion, precision and brute force while also displaying an uncanny sense of timing, reckless speed and ruthless punishing hits.
As many Tiger fans heard about Clark studying Devin White throughout his freshman year, the no-brainer expectations was for a 50 tackle substitute linebacker to take that next step, elevating towards that Devvo territory.
Then, under the coaching of Bo Pelini (who wasn't just the defensive coordinator, he also coached the LBs) LSU's system changed from a 3-4 to a 4-3 in 2020....and because of this switch, coinciding with a slight 6 pound weight gain, an apparent lack of burst and an expanded zone of responsibility, Damone missed entire assignments, fell short on plugging gaps, blew containment on the outside far too often, or repeatedly surrendered massive gains.
He was also picked on in the passing game, especially against Mississippi State...but what Coach Orgeron said today was really astute:
Watching all 9 1/2 appearances from last year, it was quite obvious Damone was able to shed blockers more easily within the 3-4 system, considering the middle of the field becomes more clogged....
Amid the 4-3 formation's massive space over the middle, Clark's inability to shed blockers with an unpolished hand technique was viciously exposed.
Clark became a total victim of circumstance like many Tigers in 2020...and his stock plummeted.
The tumultuous season became a dilapidated stage upon which everything that could go wrong did go wrong...all as plenty of LSU hallmarks disappeared into the fade. Of those reliable team characters or leaders who fell short of their own expectations, Damone Clark's descent into becoming one of LSU's most criticized players stung.
Every Tigers fan wants Damone to succeed...
I can't think of a Tigers fan who doesn't love Damone...
That's why 2020 was so unacceptable...we know just how incredible Clark is as a linebacker...but just like many Tigers on last year's squad, the haphazard manner in which Pelini & Bill Busch set up our safeties and linebackers was destined for failure right out of the gates.
It wasn't just the weight of expectation that inhibited Clark...the heaviness & overwhelming responsibility of wearing LSU's hallowed #18 jersey (alongside the pressure and off-season hype) grew into a combination of physical and mental indecision, a lack of aggression and a nagging fear of failure in the wake of his poor outings vs Miss State, Missouri and Auburn.
It was all mental...
....with Damone's body failing to help him at any point during the campaign....but now he looks to turn the page:
Since his problems were mental, such as second guessing etc, it was extremely relieving to hear LBs Coach Blake Baker make the following statement during the LSU Coaches Caravan: "The biggest thing I'm trying to get across to the linebackers right now is don't be afraid to make a mistake. Let's cut it loose, let's go full speed, we'll correct it on film and go from there. I think that's kinda where we're at, and I think it's refreshing. As a unit, some of the guys are afraid to screw up. we're gonna make mistakes it's not gonna be perfect, but let's be 100%, two feet in and...be physical...and that's kinda the challenge I have going forward."
That's the type of coaching Damone Clark needed this off-season...a license to thrill LSU fans and a permit to drill any and all offensive players in his pathway. Last year's offseason preparation under Pelini focused more on an over-complex scheme which outsmarted (or out-dumbed) itself every time.
At the same time, no coach mentally prepared Clark for accepting the Devin White & Patrick Queen mantle, let alone how to deal with the pressures of wearing #18...a number with a protected legacy and its own significant kind of oppressive intensity.
LBs Coach Blake Baker also continued to say this about the former Southern Lab destroyer:
"Right now, you know I think Damone has the most experience. He's a coach's dream. A phenomenal, phenomenal kid...wants to do everything to perfection. He's probably one of the hardest working players I've seen out there on the field on a day to day basis. And I've challenged him for bringing the other guys along."
Was last year one giant fallacy when it comes to showing the world the real Damone Clark?
Yes it was...and if anyone can overcome such a disappointing campaign, if any Tiger can make an even bigger impact than we could imagine, it's Damone Clark...the young man who survived Katrina with his family at the age of 5...a young Tiger who's home was destroyed yet again due to intense flooding during 2016...and yet the young man never blinked, even after losing everything twice.
“I feel like since Katrina and the flood made me a stronger man,” Clark told the Advocate. “I was young when Katrina hit, so I didn’t really know much. The August (2016) flood really opened my eyes that everything’s not promised. Anything can happen to stop your dreams.”
But this quote serves a dual purpose: a warning to each and every opponent about to face Damone in 2021.....
"Anything can happen to stop your dreams"...including #18...
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC
SHOUTOUTS: Thank you to my Dad for being a damn amazing father.
I need to give him more credit. My father is a Vietnam war veteran, a Cancer survivor, a devoted husband, a committed and hilarious father...my father has dealt with so many things that break some of the strongest people ten times over...still, here he is battling and loving life.
He gave me the suit jackets I wear...he wanted me to look sharp in my appearances...
He gave me the best advice, always showing me a different way to look at things...
He believes in what I'm doing and building...
He's backed me in every possible way anyone could back a fellow human being.
I love ya Dad, you're a badass and you'll never understand just how much you've taught me...but I'm gonna spend the rest of our time together letting you know.