On the Steelers: Carter capable of filling in for Clark
Steelers safety Tyrone Carter sacks Bears quarterback Jay Cutler during a 17-14 loss in Chicago Sept. 20.
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Mike Tomlin has listed five possible Steelers to play free safety when they take the Mile High plunge Monday night in Denver, and if one of them is not named Ryan Clark the correct answer will be Tyrone Carter.
Somehow, the Steelers survived to an extent with Carter playing four games at strong safety for Troy Polamalu, so this assignment should not be quite as demanding. While Clark has been an important ingredient to a Steelers defense that dominated the NFL last season, he just is not Troy Polamalu.
Neither is Carter a Ryan Clark, but the fact is the Steelers' defense turns on its All-Pro strong safety, and Polamalu looked better in his second game than he did in his first back from a sprained knee ligament.
This ongoing story is intriguing more for the human interest part of it, the dilemma for Clark and the Steelers because of his health issues in Denver than it is over the effect his absence could have on the Steelers' defense. Clark has sickle-cell trait, and his blood reacted so poorly in the exertion of playing in the thin Denver air with the Steelers in 2007 that he became almost deathly ill after the game. He wound up having his spleen and gall bladder removed and missed the second half of the 2007 season. Clark has received medical clearance to play Monday night, but has not made a decision.
As for the effect on Clark's possible absence, the Broncos are not a team that throws deep very often, as witnessed by quarterback Kyle Orton's yards-per-attempt of 7.00, which ranks 17th in the NFL. That compares with Ben Roethlisberger's 8.85, which ranks first. And for another, Polamalu will be on the field.
The way Dick LeBeau schemes defenses, the Broncos will have trouble even if they wanted to try to exploit the free safety because Polamalu could wind up there after the snap of the ball.
"I don't think they change too much because Troy will be out there," Carter said. "Still, it's predicated where Troy's at for the game plan on offense. That's the only thing I can think of. They still have to account for Troy."
Quarterbacks and their offenses have historically had trouble doing just that because Polamalu can move so quickly from one part of the field to another at the snap of the ball. The Steelers' defense revolves around him.
"Ryan's a great safety who's a quarterback back there," Carter said. "He's usually the fail-safe guy, and they let Troy do his thing. Ryan makes sure they don't get behind us, and if they pop into holes he's there to make the tackle, and we line up and play again."
One thing that could take place is the communication between Clark and linebacker James Farrior.
"Yeah, it changes a little bit for me," Farrior explained. "He's the guy who's always making the calls with me. It seems like I have an extra voice out there. It will definitely affect how I'm going to be calling things. Being out there, I have to be more aware of situations and that he's not going to be back there echoing my call.
"He knows it just like me, so he's calling it at the same time I'm calling it."
Two reasons Carter would start in Clark's place instead of Ryan Mundy, Deshea Townsend or Keiwan Ratliff -- all mentioned as possibilities by Tomlin -- are his experience playing safety and his ability against the run. Townsend has practiced and played safety the past two seasons, but at 5 feet 10 and 190 pounds is not the run-stopper that the 5-9, 195-pound Carter has been.
"If he doesn't play, that will be the challenge for me or Mundy," Carter said, "to make sure when we get an opportunity to bring him down we have to bring him down. I'm more strong safety than free safety, but I've been playing safety for years and I got accustomed to playing both."
Both Farrior and Carter believe the communication between them would be satisfactory.
"Yeah, I've been in this defense for six years and I know it in and out, which helps me a lot," Carter said. "So I don't have to be worried about what I'm doing. I know what they're doing around me.
"And playing with Troy, I know what Troy does and I have to make sure he gets the calls and line him up as well. That's the challenge for me and when the plays come, just make them."
First Published November 4, 2009 12:00 am