Steelers S Clark thrives in Polamalu's absence

Associated Press Modified: September 20, 2012 at 6:17 pm •  Published: September 20, 2012
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PITTSBURGH (AP) — 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."

And there are times when Clark knows when to stop talking and listen. Every time he walked off the field against New York he made a beeline for Polamalu and asked the soft-spoken superstar for his thoughts.

"There was never one point in my mind where I wished Troy would shut up," Clark said. "I was going to him, 'Hey man, what do you see, what's going on?' I don't think every safety tandem has that kind of relationship."

There is a decided lack of ego between them, an offshoot of a franchise that has little tolerance for prima donnas, particularly on defense. When Polamalu is sidelined — as he could be yet again on Sunday when the Steelers (1-1) travel to Oakland (0-2) — defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau takes the cuffs off Clark a little bit and lets his faux-hawked defensive leader run loose.



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