Q&A: Ryan Clark

The Steelers' new free safety didn't receive a ring last month but that only made him hungrier. In this spring interview, Clark talked about his familiarity with Dick LeBeau's schemes, playing next to Troy Polamalu, and the type of on-field communication that can't be coached.

Ryan Clark, FS, Pittsburgh Steelers

Q: How have things gone for you this spring?

RC: Things have gone well. I'm picking up pretty well and I'm getting to know the guys pretty well. The main thing is these guys have a chemistry and I'm just trying to fit in and not disturb that, so it's been going pretty good.

Q: Do you feel pressure to uphold the tradition of this defense?

RC: Without a doubt. It's not just the tradition of this defense the last few years, but the tradition of this organization period. Throughout the years they've had a great defense and a great running game, so you do feel an obligation to uphold that. It's a tough situation coming in for a guy [Chris Hope] who was well-liked both on and off the field. I can't replace him. I've got to do what I've got to do and be the best player and best teammate I can be. So that's what I'm doing, just being myself and trying to enjoy it. Coming in as a street free agent, you never really get to enjoy football because you're always fighting for your job. This time I have a chance to compete for a starting job, so I'm just trying to have a good time and mesh with the guys.

Q: Is it still that way? Are you still scrambling and scratching to remain employed?

RC: It's kind of tough but it's a blessing. I did it my whole life for free anyway. I wasn't getting paid to do it in high school and college, so to get an opportunity to play a game you love and get paid for it, that's fun. You have to compete everywhere you go. I was told I had to compete for a job and that's fine. It's better to be competing here than competing on a team that's not going to win any football games, so it's a blessing.

Q: How much have you improved since the start of minicamp?

RC: The biggest thing is the different type of communication that goes on from player to player. It's not just us talking to the DBs, it's talking to the backers, outside backers, D-linemen, just kind of their terminology. A lot of things that are in the book, we don't really use them out there. You have to go with what the guys are using and get accustomed to them. That's the biggest thing I've learned is the communication between guys, because football pretty much stays the same everywhere you go.

Q: Communication is important for a free safety, isn't it?

RC: Very important. Even if I'm wrong, as long as everybody's wrong. If we all do the wrong thing we're pretty much right.

Q: What's it like back there with Troy Polamalu?

RC: The weirdest thing is you can't watch him on film and figure out what defense we're playing. I try to watch a lot of film to see what sets we're in and what we're doing, and if you watch Troy you have no idea. So that's the coolest thing, and he communicates that. Now, he doesn't talk very much. Most of what he says is on the field and I think that's what's good about him: seeing a guy who's so humble be such an animal on game day. So it's been interesting to meet him and play with him.

Q: In trying to learn the defense, does watching him screw you up?

RC: Right. It's kind of tough to watch it with Troy. He's all over the place. Not too many guys in the league have the talent to do that: start out of position and get to where you have to get. Playing with him is going to be a plus for me because he's going to force some bad throws and force some things to happen where you just have to make plays.

Q: Does his style make things difficult on the free safety?

RC: If you've ever watched Sean Taylor play, he's pretty much the same. He goes where he has to go to make plays, so I've played with a guy like that for two years. The biggest thing is the chemistry. I have to know his different looks. The offense isn't going to know, but I have to know if he's lined up here, this is what he's going to do; if he's lined up there, this is what he's going to do. That's been the biggest challenge for me is learning the guys' body language, learning what they're doing because football's not all X's and O's. So that's been the toughest part, particularly for a free safety because I have to be able to play off of him.

Q: Those are instinctive things. Isn't that the reason they went out and got you? Because of your instincts?

RC: Right. That's what they told me (laughs). I think one thing that's smart, just looking at the guys around here, they get guys to fit the organization. A lot of teams go out to get the biggest name. That's not how they go about their business, and that's the reason they win.

Q: Why are you the right guy?

RC: First of all, my personality. When you think of the Steelers you think of hard workers, guys who go out and bust their humps every day. That's the type of player I am. I'm going to work, regardless of what my capacity is. Whether it's special teams or in the classroom, I'm going to work as hard as I can. And that's why they came to get me. Coming in, I play dime, nickel, a lot of positions, and as you see by the way they use Troy and Tyrone Carter, their safeties play a lot of positions, and I've done that.

Q: They used a lot of 3-safety sets last year.

RC: Right. It's very similar to the system I came from. Gregg Williams kind of stole a little bit of Coach LeBeau's stuff when they were in Buffalo. We played a lot of the same things, only different names. There were times last year when we had four safeties on the field. So I think that was another reason. You try to find a cog to fit your team, and I think I fit pretty well.

Q: Is that why Williams wanted you and Adam Archuleta in Washington?

RC: I don't know, man. Maybe that was. If they'd have paid me better I would've stayed. It was a situation where they just felt his worth was more than mine. And that was fine. But I wanted to come to a place where you were wanted. It's one thing for somebody to say they want you; it's another thing's for them to show you.

Q: Did Washington offer you the same thing?

RC: No. Not even close.

Q: Are you the only person Washington hasn't overpaid?

RC: Did you see Antonio Pierce last year after he went to the Giants? They didn't even get close with his deal and he's become one of the best linebackers. A lot of times, the guys that are there know it's a great place to be and so they try to use that as leverage.

Q: The Steelers respect the guys they have.

RC: Yeah they do. They do. Washington, as far as the way they treated me, they respected me. As far as the football aspect, they respected me. It's a different side of the building that handles contracts. But I have love for them. They gave me my opportunity and look where it landed me: with the Super Bowl champs. Hopefully we'll go back again and I can get a ring.

Q: What about that ring? And did you go to the White House?

RC: No, I didn't go. I wasn't part of that team.

Q: Could you have gone?

RC: I didn't even ask.

Q: Wasn't it hard?

RC: It was, but the thing about it is it makes you hungry because you want to be a part of that. You don't want to be left out of that. Those guys earned it. I wouldn't feel right standing with the guys who bled, sweat and cried out here last year to get to the Super Bowl. I wasn't part of that. I was at home eating Cheetos while they were playing, so it's OK.

Q: Did anybody say, hey, come along?

RC: No. Casey Hampton makes fun of me all the time. He asks me if I got sized for my ring? Did I get my suit for the ceremony? The guy's ride me a little bit but it's OK. What they did last year, that was spectacular. I'd like an easier route, but I'd love to be a part of that and that's why I came here. When they called and offered me a visit, I put other business on hold to come here first.

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