View Full Version : No competition at Free Safety, it's Clark

07-31-2008, 06:03 AM

The water is back in Steelers' well

With Ryan Clark healthy again, there is no talk of competition at free safety
Thursday, July 31, 2008
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

As much as the defense suffered late in the season without defensive end Aaron Smith, he might not have been the player the Steelers missed most in 2007.

It might have been Ryan Clark, their free safety.

He missed the final 10 games after having surgery to remove an inflamed spleen, and the pass defense was never the same. His replacement, Anthony Smith, foolishly guaranteed a victory against the New England Patriots and was benched because coach Mike Tomlin grew weary of watching passes get completed behind him.

Smith was replaced by veteran Tyrone Carter, who missed two big tackles in the AFC wild-card playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars -- on a 43-yard touchdown run by Maurice Jones-Drew and on a 32-yard scramble by quarterback David Garrard in the final seconds that set up the winning field goal.

"It's a shame that to be appreciated, I had to be sick and my friends had to not do as well as usual," Clark said.

Nobody at the start of the 2007 season thought one of the Steelers' most indispensable players would be Clark, not even the coaches. But, with all the problems and big plays allowed by the secondary late in the season, his loss might have been the most damaging, maybe even more so than the torn biceps injury that ended Aaron Smith's season Dec. 9.

"You never miss the water till the well runs dry," said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

That's why there is no talk of a competition at free safety this season. Clark, 28, is back, healthy and ready to go after a scary period last year in which his weight dropped to 172 pounds -- 34 pounds below his playing weight -- and he thought his NFL career might be over.

And he is lining at free safety with the first-team defense, not alternating series -- or even plays -- with Smith, not like he did last year.

"When I came back, everybody was different," Clark said. "Even Ben [Roethlisberger] came up to me and said, 'We're so different with you out there.' Even walking up here [from the practice field], last year when I was signing autographs, the fans were like, 'Ryan, try hard, but Anthony is going to beat you out.' There's none of that anymore."

Clark said it bothered him last year when he reported to training camp and had to split time in the first-team defense with Smith, a No. 3 draft pick in 2006 with whom he is good friends. He said he was upset because after signing with the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent before the 2006 season, he thought he performed well enough as a starter to merit the position.

But the coaches wanted to get Smith, an aggressive, explosive hitter, enough playing time to groom him as the eventual starter. So the Steelers began the regular season with Smith playing every third series at free safety.

"I felt like I outperformed whoever I was competing against at my position, but I still had to alternate," Clark said. "If I had been outperformed against people I was competing against, I wouldn't have got that same luxury.

"No matter how much of a man you are, you say you don't care about other things, [but] it bothered me. Not because Anthony was playing, because I think Anthony is going to be great, but because I wouldn't have been extended the same courtesy had I been outplayed. That bothered me. To me, that ain't right."

LeBeau said Clark shouldn't feel that way.

"Ryan has always been appreciated, I can assure you of that," LeBeau said. "Our goal here is, we don't look at our players as starters and backups. We're trying to get everyone ready for that day when they have to take every snap. We feel we have a good talent in Anthony Smith. These guys have to get game experience so they can grow. It was no reflection on Ryan in any shape or form."

After a 31-28 loss Oct. 21 in Denver, Clark was admitted to a hospital and told the problem with his spleen developed from complications of exerting himself in high altitude. At the time, Clark said he had similar problems in Denver when he played for the Washington Redskins two years ago, but the problem was diagnosed differently.

Now, with his weight returned to 206 pounds and feeling better than ever, Clark is ready to resume his career. He has to take six shots a year, monitor his health daily and be careful where he travels. But he will not forget the problems of last season, nor the death of his friend and former teammate, Sean Taylor.

Still, Clark said he is a better player because of everything that happened, mainly because he doesn't care as much about the little things that used to bother him.

"What can they do to me?" Clark said. "What can they do to me that will be worse than last year? Me being where I was, then turning on the NFL Network and seeing Sean Taylor has been shot while I have tubes in me, to see that happen to someone who is indestructible? To come out here now, it's just football."

Just goes to show how much of a great pickup Clark was for us. I think most of like Anthony Smith, myself included, and as he develops and grows up he's got the ability to turn into a helluva player but for now it's Ryan Clark. SMith hits like a monster and has all the intensity you want in a safety. He did play pretty well last year up until late in the season so it's not like he's a terrible player but this is a big year for him to take advantage of the opportunities he gets.

07-31-2008, 08:07 AM
We will see a major improvement with Clark back on defense.
Last season went downhill when Clark and then Aaron Smith were lost for the year.

07-31-2008, 09:35 AM
I am a huge fan or Ant.Smith. But to me clark is better served, for our team as a whole, as the starting FS. He is a very solid tackler, quick to the ball and most important he is very heady.(dont thing were missing out on massives hits Ant smith displays, Clark can bring the wood also) If Troy continues on this path of injuries, Smith should do himslef a favor by learning the SS position.(where most of us think he is best suited anyway) A major prat of being the FS on this D is being compatible with Troys freelancing. Chris Hope was very good at that and i think Clark is too! And it doesnt hurt that he now has a major chip on his shoulder this year!

07-31-2008, 10:36 AM
The defense is going to be badass this year. Woodley is a MAJOR upgrade over Haggans. With bookend badasses Woodley and Harrison, the opposition is going to have a much tougher time blocking these guys. Remember that Woodley played most of his college ball at DE so he knows a thing or two about getting by blockers. And we have all seen what Silverback can do. I would love to see Timmons get on the field more as well. The only place on defense where we are thin is on the D-line. We have no depth and any injuries to the starters results in serious downgrades in our run stopping defense as seen last year when Aaron Smith went down. The Jaguars had their way with us twice. That doesn't happen with Smith in there. I am excited to see this team on both sides of the ball!


Black@Gold Forever32
07-31-2008, 12:10 PM
Clark being back healthy is going to help the defense a ton....He is good and smart player....He might not have the freakish athletic ability as some of other S.......But he gets the job done and thats that matters....As for Anthony Smith he still is talented and I think he still has potential but do think not at FS......I just think with the way he plays he is better suited at strong safety...Only problem there is thats were Mr. Injury Troy Polmalu plays....lol

07-31-2008, 01:50 PM
If Troy doesn't have a good year that could be an experiment they want to consider trying out as the season goes on and heading into 2009.

Black@Gold Forever32
07-31-2008, 02:05 PM
If Troy doesn't have a good year that could be an experiment they want to consider trying out as the season goes on and heading into 2009.

I think Troy would have to have a very bad year for the Steelers to pull the plug on him next year......

07-31-2008, 03:31 PM
I think Troy would have to have a very bad year for the Steelers to pull the plug on him next year......

Most likely... Personally i cant wait to see clark back on the field. Ant. Smith is a very talented player, but i seemed like he was more focused on getting some big hits in, than actually getting the ball. Clark gets the job done.

08-03-2008, 02:08 AM
We know we have a good rush defense. It's out DB's that need to be healthy, so we arent beat deep. I'm glad Clark is back for this season. With him and troy back there, we are in good hands!

K Train
08-03-2008, 02:17 AM
With him and troy back there, we are in good hands!
lol your new so its ok...welcome to the forum

08-03-2008, 10:18 PM
I got to meet Ryan Clark today, what a great guy..very happy to be back on the field and very pleasant and well spoken around all the fans. He looked pretty good out there today from what I could see of him.