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Take Note: Kei'Trel Clark Makes Push To Start As Rookie

Cornerback trying to earn playing time as sixth-round pick

Cornerback Kei'Trel Clark (13) celebrates a pass breakup against the Broncos.
Cornerback Kei'Trel Clark (13) celebrates a pass breakup against the Broncos.

When Kei'Trel Clark was at Louisville, he would collect a notebook full of analysis and notes of the wide receivers he would be facing that season, breaking down the top two wide receivers for every opponent before the season even started.

The rookie cornerback hasn't gotten quite that far yet – the preseason remains the focus for a kid just learning the NFL game – but eventually, the notebooks will return for the Commanders, Giants, Cowboys and on down the schedule, especially if Clark ends up as a starter.

That's an unknown now, with Clark ostensibly battling second-year man Christian Matthew for the starting job across from Marco Wilson. It'd be a leap for a sixth-round draft choice, but then again, Clark has the confidence to make it happen, and the knowledge now what playing in an NFL game – albeit preseason – is like.

"I felt like I was being me," Clark said. "If I go back to my college tape, that's how I felt. I was just on a bigger stage. The moment wasn't too big for me at all. At all.

"I'm blessed enough to get drafted, I'm playing with the top one percent, (and) I'm the top one percent as well."

Clark knows he still has to prove what he can do. But as a defensive back from Louisville, he carries the same resume as his head coach, and Jonathan Gannon has taken a liking to Clark.

When Clark did his pre-draft visit, he told Gannon he'd want to go to his graduation ceremony at Louisville, which fell on rookie minicamp weekend. When the Cardinals drafted Clark, Gannon kept his word.

Now in practice, while Gannon tries to coach all players if the timing is right, he has had words of advice for Clark.

"He wants to be coached extremely hard. All our guys do," Gannon said.

Against the Broncos, "I thought he competed," Gannon added. "He was in the right spots with the right technique most of the time that's a tough position out there, that's why those guys get paid a lot of money. It's a hard position. You have heard me say, a 3-technique (lineman) gets cut out, a run goes for 10 yards, no one knows. But if a DB is not perfect, he's on ESPN."

Temperament is crucial to a good cornerback, as is the aforementioned confidence. When Clark was young, he'd play with the older kids and have faux fights with his uncles and from there, a mindset that he could stand up to anything was developed.

Clark hopes to be able to face Patrick Mahomes in the game against the Chiefs on Saturday. Whether that can happen is still to be determined, both with Mahomes' status and when Clark comes into the game. Against the Broncos – in which Clark had a highlight-worthy diving pass breakup – he came off the bench behind Matthew.

That battle is ongoing, although Clark said "it's all love" between the two.

"Me and Chris talked in camp and I was like, 'I appreciate you,'" Clark said. "There has never been any hate toward each other. We know we are making each other better every single day."

Starting in the regular season is possible, but not the focus yet. Just like the notebooks that have to wait.

"My emotions? They are neutral right now," Clark said. "Of course I am excited. I am in the NFL. This is what I dreamed of since I was a little kid.

"But there is still work to do."

Images from 2023 Cardinals Training Camp at the Dignity Health Training Facility