No room for the weak

Posted May 19, 2014

The Bengals rookie rooming list is literally the strength of this draft class.

 Third-round pick Will Clarke is used to wearing a blue collar.

The Bengals rookie rooming list is literally the strength of this draft class.

Third-rounder Will Clarke, the blue-collar defensive end who passed with flying colors in the West Virginia weight room, is assigned Nikita Whitlock, the undrafted nose tackle turned fullback who is raising red flags in Bengals strength circles.

The 5-10, 250-pound Whitlock hushed the weight room in one of the rookies’ first sessions last week when he benched pressed 405 pounds four times.

 “He was telling me a bit about it,” says Clarke, who admits he hasn’t been looking beyond himself lately. “I haven’t been paying much attention.”

Nose tackle Domata Peko confirms the Whitlock sighting and reports, “The D-tackle slash fullback? Yeah, he’s a beast. He’s benching 405 like its 225.”

Peko has also noticed Clarke because he’s seen him around before.

“He reminds me of when I was a rookie,’ Peko says. “He doesn’t say much. Just keep your nose down, a hard worker, really quiet, and just does his job.”

That’s easy for Clarke because that’s pretty much all he’s ever done, even before he became the first player in West Virginia history to be honored as an Iron Mountaineer three times by a vote of teammates for  excellence in the weight room.

“That’s always been part of my growing up,” Clarke says. “Work hard. I got a job when I was 16. I would work and then go to practice. Or go to school, go to practice, come home, and go to work. Or weekends, I would wake up, go work out and then go to work.”

While Clarke grew up all over Pittsburgh (the Hill district, Garfield, Bloomfield, Morningside, The East Liberty-Larimer section and now Hazelwood), he saw his father make a name for himself as a self-employed craftsman remodeling the exteriors and interiors of homes.

So he would also go to work and that meant first as a host at Famous Dave’s Barbecue seating customers and busing the occasional table. When the place closed down he became the fry guy at Five Guys. But it wouldn’t be a long career in the food industry.

“By the time I turned 18,’ he says, alluding to that football scholarship, “I had bigger and better plans.”

Now the plans have unfolded into the NFL like his 81 ¼-inch wingspan. The Bengals love the fact that he can add weight to his 6-6, 271-pound frame, but they haven’t given him a number for training camp. With the maximum weight of their ends at 280 pounds (right end Wallace Gilberry is 275), there’s not a sense of urgency.

 “They don’t have a problem with my weight,” Clarke says. “They feel like as long as I’m getting stronger, my weight could be around what it is now because I’m around the same weight as the D-ends we have now.”

Clarke says defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has told him just to make sure he develops his lower half, specifically his legs, in order to keep his strength commensurate with what is going to be asked of him in the NFL.

“Now that they’ve been here a week,” says Bengals strength coach Chip Morton, “things have slowed down a little bit for them and the personalities are starting to come out.”

That means Clarke isn’t in the weight room just for the praise.

“I don’t want to be a guy that gives a lot of good effort in the weight room and my numbers are low,” Clarke says. “I want to be the top, if not the top, close to it. I want to try and be in the top five.”

This is no news for the Bengals defensive line. Since they burst on the scene in 2010 in their present form, they’ve prided themselves on their work ethic and have cultivated the blue collar, led by their down-in-the-dirt leaders, Peko and end Robert Geathers Jr.

“They’ve really been accepting,” Clarke says. “Really, all of them. Gil, Junior, Dunlap. All those guys, it’s a collective effort. Everyone is trying to help me out.

 “They respect I work hard and as long as I work, do what I’m supposed to do and hold up my end of the deal, I’ll be fine. Those guy won’t have an issue. I jell well with the guys.”

For a blue-collar guy who has literally held the fat to the fire, the path is an ancient one.

“I try to make sure that I’m doing what a lot of other guys may not want to do,” Clarke says.

Peko, for one, is looking forward to seeing the roommates in action. He likes Clarke’s length “and can’t wait to get him on the field in OTAs and let him get after the quarterback a little bit.”

And he’d like to see Whitlock line up in pads.

“I can’t wait to see him knock heads with The Big Uso (middle linebacker Rey Maualuga) and Vontaze (Burfict). That would be welcome to the NFL,” Peko says. “It’s good to get strong and lift weights and all, but you’ve got to make sure you take it to the field.”

Clarke gets his shot before Whitlock. The Bengals go on the field for the first time this spring in helmets and shorts a week from Tuesday, May 27, in workouts that are closed to the public. Whitlock won’t be able to go in pads until training camp opens the last week of July.



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