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Cowboys Activate Clark From Injury List

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Damone Clark | Image by Callena Williams/Dallas Cowboys

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When Louisiana State University linebacker Damone Clark decided to skip the Tigers 2021 Bowl Game, he did so to prepare for the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft. The rangy run-stopping linebacker was viewed as one of the top recruits from LSU and one of the better linebackers in the entire draft class, with some analysts speculating that the player would be selected in the late-second or early-third round.

Then, Clark learned that his football future was in jeopardy because of an injury he did not know he had. During the NFL Combine, Clark was informed that he had suffered a partially herniated disk in his neck discovered by Cowboys team physician Dr. Dan Cooper.

Clark underwent spinal fusion surgery to repair the damage, all the while unsure what the recovery process would mean for his future in the NFL.

The Dallas Cowboys selected Clark in the sixth round, a serious fall from where the young player had expected to wind up before revelations of the injury. On October 26, the Cowboys announced that Clark was being moved from the Non-Football Injury List to the active roster, a first step toward the talented player’s eventual return.

“Everything happens for a reason. I’m not mad about it; I’m happy that they found it,” Clark said during training camp in May. “I take it one day at a time. I’m not rushing it; I’m not even thinking too far down the line. My biggest thing is being where your feet are. I’m here in this present moment. I’m just getting better. I’ll be back out there soon.”

Clark’s spinal fusion surgery is the same procedure Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch underwent after the 2019 season. Vander Esch was cleared to play in October 2020 and has carved out a role on the dominating Dallas defense.

With Clark closer to seeing his first on-field action for the Cowboys, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has a pleasant problem — how to involve all of the talent he has available. Clark’s activation comes in the same week that the Cowboys traded draft considerations to acquire Johnathan Hankins, a 10-year pro defensive tackle who has spent the last several years with the Las Vegas Raiders.

The Cowboys’ defense is among the top-ranked units in the NFL this season and leads the league in sacks. The pass-rushing combination of Micah Parsons, Vander Esch, Neville Gallimore, Demarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, and Dante Fowler Jr. has kept all but one offense from scoring 20 points or more in any game this season, but the rush defense ranks somewhere around the middle of the pack compared to other NFL teams.

It is thought that the Cowboys will begin working Clark into special teams play at first, gradually ramping up his snaps with the eventual goal of using him as a rotational player brought in to defend on running downs. Clark said he doesn’t care what task he is asked to do; he is simply excited about the opportunity.

“I’m just happy they found it, and Dallas still picked me up,” Clark said. “I’m happy to be here.”

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