Clark growing weary of safety battle

PITTSBURGH – On the Steelers depth chart, Ryan Clark is listed as the starting free safety. But right now, the top free agent signee from the offseason feels like anything but a starter.

With one week to go before the regular season opener at Heinz Field against the Miami Dolphins, Clark remains a starter in name only. Head coach Bill Cowher refuses to name one after the position was vacated when Chris Hope signed as a free agent with Tennessee.

So the Steelers went into the preseason with Clark battling veteran Tyrone Carter for the spot.

Clark was a two-year starter with the Redskins before signing a four-year $7-million contract with the Steelers that included a $1.7-million signing bonus. Clark is getting a little frustrated by the process.

"It doesn't have to be that big of a deal where they sit us down or anything like that; just say it," said Clark. "It's getting to the point where you just want him to say it. Either way, we're both going to play a lot; we're both going to contribute. But letting us know who the starter is would kind of let us settle into our roles.

"You just want it to be over."

Slowing down the process may be the rapid development of rookie Anthony Smith, a third-round pick in this year's draft.

Smith leads the Steelers with 12 preseason tackles and also has two interceptions, one sack and three pass deflections. His hit on Philadelphia return man J.R. Reid on a punt last Saturday was continually played on ESPN.

Clark, who started the second preseason game, has eight tackles. Carter, who started the first and third preseason contests, has five tackles.

"All of us have played well," said Clark, who should get the start in preseason finale Thursday against Carolina. Cowher continues to rotate Clark and Carter with the first team defense not just with each game, but in each practice.

"I think I've played well, Ty's played well. And Anthony has made a strong case for himself. They just need to pick the best guy and let him go out and play."

Carter, who played extensively in the Steelers' nickel and quarter defenses last season, feels he's had the advantage throughout the process since he's been with the Steelers for nearly two seasons, while Clark and Smith are newcomers. Since the free safety position makes the defensive calls in the secondary, Carter is more comfortable with the process.

"You just have to take advantage of your opportunity to be out there when you get it," said Carter. "When your number is called, you just try to make the most out of it.

"I think I've played to the best of my ability. You don't always get the opportunity to make a lot of plays. But I haven't made any mental errors. I've been out there lining people up and making the right calls."

That's where Clark has suffered throughout the process. Not only is he learning the Steelers' terminology, he's also trying to get acquainted with how his new teammates play.

"It's difficult to get in a groove with certain guys when one day you're with the twos and the next day you're with the ones," Clark said. "But unless you're a guy like Troy (Polamalu), you're competing every year. I've just never been in a situation where the coaches said, ‘These two guys are competing.' When I was in Washington, everybody competed. You were just trying to play."

Courtesy of the Observer-Reporter

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