View Full Version : On the Steelers: Ryan Clark's woes helped daughter

08-25-2010, 01:18 AM
On the Steelers: Ryan Clark's woes helped daughter
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In a way, Ryan Clark is grateful for that fateful Oct. 21, 2007 game in Denver that caused him to lose his spleen and gallbladder, which threatened his football career, not to mention his life.

One little girl benefited from that ordeal, Loghan Clark, his daughter. Like her dad, Loghan has the sickle-cell trait, which means her blood could react similarly under the kinds of stress Ryan went through in the mile-high atmosphere three years ago that wound up ravaging some internal organs.

Until it happened, he had no clue of the danger.

"We pray about it," Clark said of his family of three children and wife Yonka. "The good part about it -- I know so much about it since I got sick to deal with her than I did before. And I'm still here, so that's good, too."

Yes it is, because not only does Clark still play football, he is back playing free safety for the Steelers after turning down what he said was more money from the Miami Dolphins in free agency this year. He signed a four-year, $14 million contract with the Steelers after coaches Mike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau and Ray Horton recruited him back.

Clark will not play in the exhibition game Sunday night in Denver, and he did not play Nov. 9 in the Monday night game there. He will, however, run before the game again as he did last season to see if he has a reaction in case he has to play in Denver again. He had no reaction after doing so last year.

Will Allen and Ryan Mundy will replace him, but after that he will return to his old job, lighter in weight and ready to resume his partnership with Troy Polamalu that was disrupted last season because the Pro Bowl strong safety missed 11 games with knee injuries.

Clark also is ready to help LeBeau's defense resume its perch atop the NFL it enjoyed during the Super Bowl run of 2008.

"I think when we're healthy, we're the No. 1 defense in the NFL," Clark said.

That was not the case last season, and it is the main reason Clark figures they tumbled, not to just No. 5 in yards allowed in the NFL but to the galling stat that was five blown saves -- the defense lost leads in the fourth quarters of five defeats.

"Obviously, the biggest thing is finishing," Clark said. "We played some good games for three quarters last year, we had some people behind but we didn't finish. You give up 21 points to the [Oakland] Raiders in the fourth quarter for a loss ... Cincinnati drives late in the game at their place and scores two TDs ... Chicago."

It went on and on, it seemed.

"It wasn't like we couldn't stop people, that was the most frustrating part. We stopped people all game and, then, when it counted most, when it mattered, we couldn't do it. It was more of a shock because you couldn't figure out why. There was nothing where you turned on the tape where you could say, hmmm, we can fix that this week. It wasn't like the same problem every week.

"Coach Tomlin always says if you keep getting beat on the same thing, get a new problem. We were getting new problems every week, and every week there was something breaking down, whether it was communication, whether it was the rush, whether we were letting people run free in the secondary, we weren't covering backs out of the backfield. Every week it was something different. And, when that's happening to a team, it's hard for coach LeBeau to say this is how we fix it. If you have one area that you can focus on and concentrate on, maybe you can get it done, and we couldn't. It was mind-boggling.

"Guys still worked out, guys still ran to the ball, guys still studied. We paid attention in meetings. It wasn't like our attitude. We wanted to be the greatest two years in a row, and it just wasn't happening. So it was very frustrating."

Months later, Clark came up with his own answer for their problems in 2009: The absence for 11 games each of Polamalu and defensive end Aaron Smith.

"When you lose not only the plays Troy makes but the plays he talks people out of trying offensively, it's tough. How comfortable we are when we're all playing together. Certain things I knew Troy was going to do and vice versa. The communication we have. When that's out of sync, you get people running free in the Kansas City game with nobody on them because the communication wasn't passed out the way it usually is."

Having Allen, who started 26 games in the NFL at Tampa Bay before signing with his old secondary coach, Tomlin, will help, too, Clark said.

Clark wanted to be faster yet stronger than he was last season. He spent hours in the Arizona heat flipping old tires and medicine balls around as part of his workout routine.

"I watched film last year, I felt I was plenty strong. But last year, the field was bigger without Troy. I think we do a very good job of splitting it up. I think last year not having him it made me feel like I need to be able to cover more ground just in case it happens again. You know, you get comfortable when you play with some people, but this year I wanted to focus on getting leaner."

He stands 5 feet 11 and weighs about 200 now, without the spleen and gallbladder that were worth losing to him in the long run.

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at http://www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

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