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Earning His Stripes

Posted Jan 30, 2010

Ryan Clady is playing in his first Pro Bowl, showing he is one of the best tackles in the AFC. But the left tackle will take the field on the right side of the line on Sunday, as he is still earning his stripes among the all-stars.

Ryan Clady has enjoyed soaking in the first Pro Bowl trip of his career.

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Ryan Clady is hard to miss.

At 6-feet-6-inches and 325 pounds, he stands out in a crowd both in stature and skill, even in the National Football League.

But here in South Florida preparing for the first Pro Bowl of his young career, Clady is a rookie all over again, surrounded by dozens of players who all stand out on their respective teams.

"It's been surreal," Clady said. "Just being around all these great players, players that a few years ago I was watching them in the Pro Bowl -- it's crazy. I'm having a good time."

The second-year pro has started 32 straight games at left tackle to begin his career, and did not give up a full sack in his first 20 career starts -- an NFL record since Stats Inc. began tracking the statistic in 1994. But on the AFC Pro Bowl squad, Clady is starting at right tackle. Why? Cleveland's Joe Thomas mans the left spot, and this is his third trip to the all-star game.

"It goes by number of Pro Bowl years -- you get to choose what position you want to play," Thomas said, cracking a smile. "My first year I had to play a lot of right tackle, too."

That's how it goes in the Pro Bowl -- seniority is the most important statistic. Clady only stands out here because it's his first trip to the game. But the tackle doesn't mind, and he said he has already been making new friends among the conference's best. And his play has impressed some of the most talented players in the game.

In fact, Thomas said he has no doubt he and Clady will get to know each other better year after year in the Pro Bowl, which is why he's glad he has two more Pro Bowl berths than the Bronco, or as he put it, "a good cushion."

"He's obviously a young guy with a lot of talent and he's improved a lot from year one to year two," Thomas said. "He's going to be one of the great tackles in the league, you can definitely tell."

One of his teammates in South Florida, Elvis Dumervil, calls Clady an "unsung hero" for his success since he had to go against the Pro Bowler every day in practice.

When talking about what makes the tackle so good, Dumervil couldn't help but laugh as he ran down the list.

"He has quick feet, he has long arms and then he's strong," he said. "He has strong hands -- once he gets his hands on you, there's not much you're going to do. Then you can't outrun him, you can't run around him, you can't really run him over, so you've just got to deal with it."

"Every game I like to go watch the other D-End go through it, because I'm going through it all day in practice."

One of those defensive players who battled against Clady this season was Dallas' DeMarcus Ware, who could also match up against the offensive tackle in the Pro Bowl on Sunday.

Ware, who led the league in sacks in 2008, said he is "not surprised at all" that Clady is a Pro Bowler in just his second year in the league -- only the 11th tackle in league history to accomplish that feat so early in his career.

"Sometimes you can beat his feet but his hands will still get on you," Ware said. "That's what good offensive tackles do."

Even with all that praise, Clady is still spending this Pro Bowl trip on the right side of the line. But the left tackle hopes that one day he'll be the one forcing a younger tackle to the right side.

"Some guys have been here 10, 11 times, and that's something that might be a goal of mine in the future," he said. "I'd definitely like to come back."