Cumberland Times-News

Football

September 21, 2012

Steelers’ Clark thrives in Polamalu’s absence

PITTSBURGH — Ryan Clark does not stop talking. Not in the huddle. Not in meetings. Not on the sideline and certainly not on the field.

The irrepressibly chatty Pittsburgh Steelers safety offers a running commentary on everything from an opponent’s offensive set to his teammates’ sartorial choices.

Yet when asked how an undrafted player has managed to stick around the NFL for more than a decade, win a Super Bowl ring and make a Pro Bowl while serving as half of arguably the best safety tandem in the league and Clark grows quiet before answering.

“Because Troy (Polamalu) is a really, really talented guy,” he said.

True enough. Then again, isn’t Clark?

“Not like that,” Clark said. “Not abnormally talented for an NFL safety ... I’m just a guy.”

One that in his own way is perhaps just as valuable to Pittsburgh’s defense as his future Hall of Fame teammate. With Polamalu watching in sweats due to a strained right calf, Clark did a pretty solid Polamalu impersonation during a 27-10 win over the New York Jets last Sunday, all the way down to the eye-catching hairdo (a well-manicured faux-hawk if you’re keeping score).

If Clark wasn’t making one of his team-high eight tackles, he was breaking up a potentially game-turning pass to New York wide receiver Stephen Hill or bouncing ideas off Polamalu between defensive series.

Not that Polamalu minded.

“I probably enjoyed the last game more than any other game that I’ve watched or been on the sideline for,” the perennial All-Pro said.

In another time or on another team, Clark might be the one people talk about, the one with the Defensive Player of the Year Awards and the closet full of Pro Bowl jerseys.

Instead he’s often viewed as the normal human to Polamalu’s wild-haired football savant, the steadying presence whose discipline allows Polamalu to go do his thing.

Clark is OK with that. Though he allows “maybe” he would have a higher profile if he didn’t play alongside one of the best players of his generation, he wouldn’t trade places and personal glory for the privilege of lining up on the same field with a guy he considers among his closest friends.

“The thing about it is he’s helped me get to this point,” Clark said. “There’s so many things about playing the position of safety that I’ve taken from him. Obviously I can’t do what he does, but I can prepare like he prepares and we have each other to talk to.”

Clark spearheaded a defense that shut down the Jets in the second half last weekend as Pittsburgh’s secondary manhandled New York’s wide receivers and limited the Jets to 91 yards over the final 30 minutes.

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