It wasn't simply an impressive rookie debut for Damone Clark in 2022, it was one that nearly didn't happen at all, and his first true offseason now has him aimed at the moon
FRISCO, Texas — Entering the 2023 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys knew they needed to add to their linebacker position, and did exactly that by selecting born-and-bred Texas standout DeMarvion Overshown with the 90th-overall pick. He joins an LB unit led by an All-Pro in Leighton Vander Esch and what should be an explosive Year 2 for Damone Clark.
And what makes the latter that much more impressive is that, following news of his spinal fusion surgery one year ago, Clark was able to avoid a redshirt season in 2022 — fighting his way through rehab to make his NFL debut for the Cowboys against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 30.
His five combined tackles tied for second-most on the team in their victory that day.
It was a foreshadowing of things to come for Clark, and Vander Esch believes wholeheartedly that an entire offseason of training, sans rehab, will make the former All-American and First-Team All-SEC linebacker that much more destructive to opposing offenses.
"I think this is going to be huge for Damone," said Vander Esch, not long before defending his title at the 10th annual Reliant Home Run Derby. "We've been training pretty much the whole offseason before we reported [to the facility] together."
There's virtually no category Clark won't likely improve in.
"Strength-wise, intelligence-wise, he's just going to get that much better; and settle into his shoes and really make a name for himself," LVE said. "I think he's going to make tremendous strides."
As noted, this offseason provides Clark with the ability to train passionately alongside Vander Esch and others versus his status last year, when all he could do was wait on standby while he recovered from his procedure. The work has already begun for the former Tiger, and Vander Esch beamed when forecasting Clark's future.
And having re-signed another contract with the Cowboys this offseason, Vander Esch will be around to help make sure potential becomes reality for Clark, who finished his rookie year with 47 combined tackles and two forced fumbles in only five starts.
"Just being out there and communicating with him, helping him along and showing him the way because, obviously, you can make a jump every single year," said the Pro Bowler. "It's not just a big first to second year jump. You've got to make a jump every single year. I'll be there every step of the way to help him along and enjoy all of the moments with him."
For Clark, who'll be named starter beside Vander Esch in 2023, it could all begin coming together exactly as head coach Mike McCarthy predicted in late November.
"I think we're seeing the beginning of an outstanding career," he said.
All signs point to that likely being true.