Clark takes baby steps

IAN BUSBY

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

Proud new papa Brian Clark has sat out of practice this week, but the most painful thing is bouncing his daughters on his knee.

The Calgary Stampeders middle linebacker may not play in tomorrow's Labour Day Classic against the Edmonton Eskimos because of an infection on his knee.

The problem hasn't gone away during the biggest time of the CFL but a busy time in Clark's life.

Clark's wife Shannon gave birth to daughter Brinley and both of the couple's parents have come to Calgary for the new arrival, making for a busy house with three-year-old Ashlyn also running around.

The 10-year CFL veteran is on antibiotics with the hopes the infection will go away by game time, but he's had to miss practice for the past two days and the prognosis doesn't look great.

"It would be hard to take ... I hate missing a game anyway and this is a big one for us," Clark said yesterday. "I really feel like we match up pretty well against Edmonton. It's always fun to play in the Labour Day game. It would be a tough one to sit on the sideline and watch."

The problem started with a hair follicle and grew into what now could be a staff infection. He had to be separated from the team to make sure it wouldn't spread.

"All the bad hits you can take during a game ... to be questionable because of an ingrown hair is, in my mind, pretty ridiculous," Clark said. "I've never had something like this happen before. But it's pretty serious."

Replacing Clark in practice this week is second-year Stampeder Rob Rodriguez, who has worked on the practice roster all season.

Losing Clark's experience and leadership could be devastating, but Rodriguez sits next to Clark in the locker-room and has spent the entire campaign watching the defensive captain work.

"I've learned a lot just watching him do his thing," said Rodriguez, who will make his season debut even if he doesn't start on defence.

"I'm a much better linebacker now than I was at the beginning of the season when I got put on PR. I've taken it as an opportunity to learn from the guys around me.

"I hope it shows because I feel a lot more prepared now than I did when the season started. When Clark is in there, everything is under control. He's so good at what he does.

"All I'm doing right now is just getting the experience because when the game time comes around, we know Clark will do the job. As for me, it's a chance to get in there and see what he sees."

Losing Clark could be a terrible blow for a Stamps defence that has struggled in recent outings. Clark and fellow linebacker Scott Coe are the only players who have continually played in Denny Creehan's system since it was implemented in 2004.

"If he has questions during the game, I'll be there," Clark said.

"He's playing this week anyway, so it's a good opportunity for him."

Rodriguez, who started the playoff loss last year but hasn't played since, knows it won't be easy to replace Clark, but there is no better player to use as a mentor.

"If I'm going to be a good middle linebacker, I want to learn from the best," Rodriguez said.

"Clark is the best in this league."


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