View Full Version : Clark earns first start at safety

08-18-2006, 12:07 AM
Clark earns first start at safety
Friday, August 18, 2006

By Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Ryan Clark watched last week as rookie Anthony Smith grabbed the headlines with two interceptions and made his presence felt in the open audition at free safety. Clark had a standout game and impressed coaches with his playmaking ability.

As a five-year veteran, though, Clark knows making plays likely is not the most important thing the coaching staff is looking for in the man who wins the competition. It just may be the man who is steady and does not make mistakes.

"It's not a situation where this guy has to make this many plays or this guy has to do this, and this is what will separate you," said Clark, who signed as a free agent with the Steelers in March to compete for the job vacated by Chris Hope when he signed a contract with Tennessee.

"It's just going to be about the overall play and what's best for the Steelers. It might be a situation where the media or fans see it a different way because this guy has done more flashy things or more showy things. But that might not be what the coaches are looking for."

Clark is battling fellow veteran Tyrone Carter -- and now, possibly, Smith -- for the starting free-safety job opposite Troy Polamalu. Carter started last week against the Arizona Cardinals, and Clark will get his first opportunity to play with the first team in a game tomorrow against the Minnesota Vikings.

When asked what he is looking for in his starter at free safety, secondary coach Darren Perry said "consistency." For the casual fan, determining which player is most consistent is not always easy, especially at a position such as free safety. The free safety in the Steelers' defense must be the quarterback of the defense and get his teammates lined up correctly first and foremost.

"We want a guy who is going to complement Troy and be the quarterback back there," Perry said. "We need someone who will get everybody lined up and take charge, be the communicator and leader back there we need."

According to cornerback Deshea Townsend, Clark fits the bill when it comes to steadiness and reliability. "He's a Steelers-type of person, great character, will go out there and do whatever," Townsend said. "If you ask him to play special teams, he's not complaining.

"He'll do whatever it takes to win and you can see that from just meeting him. And then, how smart he is ... how he's picked up on the defense in such a short time is just amazing. He can make the calls, and you feel confident when he makes the call because you know he's making the right one. He's a good fit for us."

Clark was a starter for the Washington Redskins most of the past two seasons. That starting experience in the NFL goes a long way. But Carter, a spot starter in his first six seasons in the league, has the advantage of having been with the Steelers most of the past two seasons.

"Ryan is doing well," Perry said. "He's still learning our defense. You can see as the days go by he's getting more and more comfortable in our system and is starting to make plays. Ryan is making good progress.

"He'll get his opportunity this week. We're going to let those guys battle it out. Hopefully, in the next three weeks, in the next three games, one of those guys will step up and will be able to start the season for us."

In addition to being the quarterback of the defense, another job requirement is having a good rapport with Polamalu, who likes to freelance and make plays, sometimes outside of the framework of the defense. It is the free safety's job to cover for Polamalu if he does not make the play.

Clark understands that and hopes to build a good working relationship with Polamalu over the final few weeks of the preseason. Polamalu enjoyed a fruitful on- and off-field relationship with Hope.

"It's very important because that's what makes our defense click, being able to have Troy do what he does," Clark said. "I think it's big. I have to know Troy's responsibilities just in case he sees something, tries to go get it and it's not what he thinks it is. I need to be able to back him up and help him. That's a big part of it.

"You have to trust the other one. I understand where Troy is coming from with Chris Hope. They were good friends. He loved playing with him. It was the same way with me and [Redskins safety] Sean Taylor.

"You miss those guys. You develop a chemistry that is unspoken." Coach Bill Cowher does not have a timetable for naming a starter at free safety and said Carter and Clark could continue to compete up through the final preseason game. He downplayed the worries of having someone in place sooner.

"I'm not concerned with that," Cowher said. "Troy has worked with both of those guys. They've all worked together. We've mixed them enough that there won't be any kind of acclimation [period] needed when we make a decision. They both have been in there enough that we'll be fine at that position."

Clark, for one, has no problem with the competition.

"I like to compete," he said. "I don't like to get beat in practice, games, anything. I'm going to compete. I'm going to bring it every play, and that's what the Steelers are all about on defense.

"It's going to be a tough call. The coaches will make the best decision. I think guys have played well. Everyone has done different things. Everyone has shown what they can do.

"Before it's all over, we're all going to play and contribute. It's best for the Steelers that we have a situation like this."


08-18-2006, 08:21 AM
While many are loving what they saw in Smith last week, which is understandable to a degree, I'm really pulling for Clark; hopefully he shows up tomorrow night and solidifies his job at the FS position.

While Anthony Smith had a good preseason showing, I would still rather see Clark win the spot and give Smith a season or two to learn the defense and slowly get his feet wet at the NFL level.

As I've stated before, I've heard nothing but great things time and time again when Clark's name is brought up. He's a Steeler kind of guy. He's capable of making the calls (did in DC); his teammates seem to respect his effort/production (a veteran in Townsend giving praise speaks volumes), so they'll listen to him. I still think he'll work in smoothly with Troy, which counts. His weakness seems to be that he has troubles playing centerfield against the pass, but can on the run; stopping those mid-gainers from going long.

I'll be paying close attention to Clark tomorrow night; I'm hoping I see good things.

08-18-2006, 08:32 AM
"I like to compete," he said. "I don't like to get beat in practice, games, anything. I'm going to compete. I'm going to bring it every play, and that's what the Steelers are all about on defense.

Very good article, 83, but this statement really stood out to me. Clark already has the blueprint down pat and knows what he has to do to win the job. I'm looking for him to have a stand-out game tomorrow and prove himself capable and worthy of being the bookend to Troy. I really like this guy's 'tude. :cool:

08-18-2006, 08:46 AM
Clark seems to be the consummate pro....I've liked this signing since it happened...hopefully he steps up tomorrow night....

08-18-2006, 09:24 AM
Totally agree, I have liked the pick-up as well from day one. While watching the redskins game Sunday i noticed real quickly they missed Clark. The guy that was wearing his number from last year was getting tore up back there. I think he will become the starter by the first game. GO STEELERS!