Mundy expands his safety net role


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Ryan Mundy, like Mike Wallace, was a restricted free agent who did not receive an offer from another team. That is where the similarity ends.

Mundy wasted no time signing a $1.26 million one-year contract tender from the Steelers when restricted free agency ended in April. It's actually not a bad payday for a backup safety who becomes a starter only when there's an injury and when the team plays in Denver.

That means he will have started two games in a row when the Steelers open the season Sept. 9 against the Broncos. He started for Ryan Clark in the playoff loss at Denver in January and he will start again for him at free safety in the opener.

Clark has sickle cell trait and his blood reacted in such an angry way in the high altitude in Denver in 2007 that he and the Steelers are not willing to take the risk of it happening again. So, he will sit and Mundy will play.

The Broncos stunned the Steelers in overtime in January, and likely will be favored when they meet this time. That's what happens when you swap Tim Tebow out at quarterback for Peyton Manning, even if Tebow did have a career day against a banged-up Steelers defense.

Add in the no-huddle offense that Manning loves to run with the mile high altitude, and Mundy's job become all the more important. He'll be calling all the plays that Clark usually handles.

"Throughout his career he's had some strong tendencies like the hurry-up offense, no-huddle-type stuff," Mundy said of Manning. "We all know he's a very cerebral player. Once the preseason gets going, we'll have to turn on the game film to see exactly what we're getting ready for. I'm sure we can't wait for that. We know it's going to be a big challenge for us."

That game is a month away as the Steelers prepare to open the preseason Thursday night in Philadelphia against the Eagles. But it's on many of their minds, and surely Mike Tomlin will take some time in training camp to begin early preparations for the Broncos and Manning.

Mundy can't help but think about it because it's a rare start for him in what is a big year for him. This will be only his third regular-season start since the Steelers drafted the Woodland Hills High School graduate in the sixth round in 2008. He started two games for an injured Troy Polamalu in 2010 and that playoff game for Clark last season.

It's hard to crack a lineup that features two Pro Bowl safeties, even if you're No. 1 behind each of them.

"It's tough but probably the best thing that happened in my career, watching those two guys play, learning from them not only on the field but off the field," Mundy said. "They're two great guys, two great family men. Just to be able to learn from them and how to be a professional on and off the field, not many people in the NFL get an opportunity to do that."

Mundy wants a different kind of opportunity now. He wants to start, and not just in Denver. He will become a full-fledged free agent after this season and he hopes someone will give him a shot to start, even perhaps his hometown team.

He admitted getting "antsy" waiting for that chance.

"You have to have that edge as a player, a competitor," Mundy said. "You always want to be better, always seeking an opportunity especially in my position; I don't know when that opportunity will come."

He's 27 -- he was at Michigan four years and then finished up as a post-graduate at West Virginia in 2007, then spent half of his first pro season on the Steelers practice squad.

He plays on special teams while biding his time to fill in for Polamalu or Clark.

"If you look at his production last year during the regular season I thought he was very dependable," secondary coach Carnell Lake said. "He made some plays for us, some crucial plays."

It will be crucial if he does so in Denver next month as well, both for the Steelers and perhaps for Ryan Mundy's future.

Guarding his position

No one on the Steelers this side of Max Starks has won and lost starting jobs more often than Ramon Foster.

He started four games because of injuries as an undrafted rookie in 2009. He won the starting job at right guard in the middle of the '10 season. He lost it to Doug Legursky to open last season. He got it back in the middle of last season.

And coming into this one, there were many assumptions that Foster again would lose his starting job at right guard because of the hulking presence of first-round draft choice David DeCastro, who played right guard at Stanford.

Thursday night, when the Steelers open the preseason, it's probable that, indeed, the rookie will start at right guard because Foster had to shift to left guard when Willie Colon's ankle was injured Friday night. If Colon cannot go, that's the way they will line up.

But one thing is certain, DeCastro has not won the job at right guard over Foster, and Foster has been determined to keep it that way.

"You don't want to just passively give away your starting role," Foster said. "This is a world championship team, you want to be a guy starting on that team. We're both going to get better no matter who wins the job. We'll just handle that at the end of camp.

"Is there a sense of urgency? Definitely. I think it's there for Dave, too."

DeCastro has struggled through the first 10 days of his first pro training camp, and Foster has done nothing but improve. They are worlds apart in their resumes, Foster having played tackle at Tennessee and gone undrafted. Nevertheless, Foster also has turned mentor to the guy who wants his job.

"We have good conversations," Foster said. "If there's a coaching point I can give him, I'll definitely give him. If he starts, I want him to know as much if not more than I do."

Practice resumes

The Steelers resume practice today at 3 p.m. at Saint Vincent College after their day off Monday. It is open to the public, the only one between now and Saturday, when they return to practice again at 3 p.m. after their Thursday night preseason opener at Philadelphia.

Steelers

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.


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