What's up with the safeties?

The Pittsburgh Steelers' recent free agent visitors have revealed an apparent concern with the safety position. SCI's Dale Lolley digs deeper.

In the past few days, the Pittsburgh Steelers have hosted a pair of free agent free safeties in Eugene Wilson and Chris Crocker who would definitely not be considered backups were they to sign with the team.

What gives?

There's no doubt the position was a problem area for the team in 2007, but the biggest reason for that was because Ryan Clark was lost early in the season after suffering through an illness – brought on from playing in Denver's high altitude – that eventually forced the removal of his spleen.

Second-year pro Anthony Smith took over the position in place of Clark and eventually lost the job to veteran Tyrone Carter.

But is the position such a mess that the Steelers need to look elsewhere to solve the problem?

Maybe so.

Though Clark told SteelCityInsider.com's Jim Wexell that he's recovering well while working his way back into shape at the team's practice facility, there must be lingering questions about his long-term prognosis.

Granted, Clark isn't a great playmaker, but he's a heady veteran presence in the secondary and a perfect complement to strong safety Troy Polamalu.

Certainly Wilson and Crocker wouldn't sign with the Steelers unless there were some kind of guarantee that they would be given every opportunity to start. And maybe that's why both came and left without signing their name to a contract.

Maybe they were told they would be brought in as insurance just in case Clark isn't able to make a recovery and get back on the football field.

Which brings us to Smith and Carter.

Apparently, the coaching staff saw enough of both last season to know that they can't go into 2008 with that duo as their only options if Clark can't play.

Smith still makes too many mental mistakes on the field – and some off it as well, such as guaranteeing a win over New England – for the coaching staff to trust him.

Maybe heading into his third NFL season, the light will come on and he'll finally get it. He has the physical attributes and toughness, after all.

But if he doesn't, that would only leave Carter as an option and Carter is what he is – a journeyman veteran.

There's nothing wrong with that. He's carved out a nice career for himself in that role.

It's obvious, however, the Steelers aren't comfortable with the possibility of Carter being their starter at free safety in 2008 any more than they are Smith.

Either way, the whole situation shows a lack of confidence.

The Steelers aren't confident Clark will recover. And they aren't confident Smith or Carter can replace him if he doesn't.

F. Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.


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