A Tough Call: A Quarterback Battle in Pittsburgh
Written by: Luke Nicholson ? 8/22/2006
If someone mentioned that there is a quarterback battle in the Steel City, they would have to be crazy. Unless, of course, they were referring to the starting free safety position left vacant by the departed Chris Hope. The successor of that job will hold the role of quarterback of the defense. "We want a guy who is going to compliment Troy (Polamalu) and be the quarterback back there," said defensive back coach, Darren Perry. "We need someone who will get everybody lined up and take charge, be the communicator and leader back there we need."
Who fits Perry's mold? During the off-season, the Steelers' front office brought in Ryan Clark from the Redskins and drafted Anthony Smith with their first of two third round draft picks. The two newcomers joined returning safety Tyrone Carter on the roster and the position battle was set.
Carter obviously started with a jump on the competition, as he was already familiar with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's system. Clark had experience in similar systems from his time with the Giants and Redskins, as well as an idea of what to expect from the pro game. "I think it's one of the strong points of my game, the mental aspect of it and being able to pick up on those things quickly and adjust to them straight from the meeting room to the field," said Clark. Smith, on the other hand, had to establish himself as more than a mid-round rookie before he could hope to crack the starting lineup.
Throughout the four weeks of training camp and two preseason games, Carter and Clark have rotated with the first team defense. "You got to get into a rhythm and stuff like that, but you got to take them as they go. The only thing you can do is go out there and do your best and whatever happens, you know, just let the chips fall where they lay," commented Carter. "Both of us are good, both of us are aggressive and both of us like to be around the ball. I just think that either one of us will benefit the defense no matter what." Clark added, "I just want to add to the chemistry and fit in like a piece of the puzzle?It's just going to be about the overall play and what's best for the Steelers."
Head coach Bill Cowher is not worried about selecting a starter just yet. "I'm not concerned with that. 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 needed when we make a decision."
That decision could be tougher than Cowher or the rest of the coaching staff originally thought. Not only are Carter and Clark playing spectacular ball, but Anthony Smith is progressing rapidly. "He's ahead of the curve right now," stated LeBeau of his rookie safety. "I think the coaching sessions helped all those guys in terms of running our defense and making the calls."
But Smith is also impressing in game situations, corralling two interceptions against the Cardinals and barely missing a sack against the Vikings. Smith continued his tear during the one-minute drill in practice this afternoon, sacking Shane Boyd and then intercepting him three plays later.
His teammates in the defensive backfield have taken notice. "Wait ?til next year," declared cornerback Ike Taylor. "You can already see when he's out there in the sub packages. Once he understands the defense more, he's going to be something." Tyrone Carter agrees, "He's going to be a great safety for us in the nearby future."
After it is all said and done, Ryan Clark sums it up best, "It's going to be a tough call."