Outlook different for Clark
By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer
LATROBE - Ryan Clark won't forget the last couple of months of the 2007 season.
The Steelers starting free safety nearly saw his football career - and life - come to an end after a loss to Denver in October. He suffered an injury to his spleen.
In November, Clark got the news that his good friend and former teammate, Washington's Sean Taylor, had been murdered at home in Miami during a robbery attempt.
These incidents tend to put life into perspective, particularly for 28-year-old football players who consider themselves and their peers indestructible.
So every time Clark has taken the field for the Steelers since returning to the offseason workouts, he has been bubbling with energy, seeking as much enjoyment out of playing football as possible.
"I think it helped me," said Clark at the Steelers' training camp at St. Vincent College. "For so long, I tried to please everybody with my play. I wanted to finally get rid of that stigma of being undrafted. I wanted to be the starting guy. Coach (Mike Tomlin) asked us to write down our goals for this year and my goal was to have as much fun as possible, no matter what capacity I play in because it was almost over. What did I have left other than my family and the people around me? You want those memories to be fond ones. You don't want to be upset all the time, playing with a chip on your shoulder. You just want to enjoy it."
Last year, Clark battled second-year pro Anthony Smith, a 2006 third-round draft pick, for the starting free safety position.
It was the second year in a row Clark, who signed with the Steelers as a free agent after two years in Washington, was forced to battle for the starting job. In 2006, he won the position in training camp from Tyrone Carter.
After a 31-28 loss in Denver Oct. 21, Clark began feeling ill and was forced to stay behind when the chartered plane returned to Pittsburgh. He was admitted to a hospital and told the problem with his spleen developed from complications of exerting himself in high altitude. It was a problem, brought on by the Sickle Cell Anemia trait in his system, that also happened two years earlier when he played with the Redskins. That injury was first misdiagnosed as a spleen contusion.
Clark lost more than 30 pounds and eventually had to have the spleen removed because of complications from a bacterial infection.
A month after that game, Clark learned of the shooting death of Taylor, a teammate of his for two seasons in Washington.
"It was really heart wrenching to see a teammate go through those kind of things," admitted strong safety Troy Polamalu.
Clark's weight is back to 206 pounds and he will be the Steelers' starting free safety, unchallenged for the first time. It seems the Steelers learned how valuable Clark was last season.
"Football has kind of changed for him a little bit," said Polamalu. "He's kind of been in some positions in the past where he's never held down a starting role in Washington, here. ... Now, he's our starter at free safety. Plus, we're getting older, hanging out more together, all that good stuff. That makes things more fun."
Clark is wearing No. 21 during practice as a tribute to Taylor.
"In some ways, it's because of last year. But it's also because no matter what I do, you can't control what other people say about you or how you are perceived," the seven-year veteran said. "All you can control is how you play and how much fun you have playing the game. I want to control that part and all the rest of it will figure itself out."
Odds and end zones
Nose tackle Casey Hampton is about a week away from being activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list. Hampton, who reported to camp at 360 pounds, is now just 10 pounds heavier than the team's 335-pound limit. ... Cornerbacks Deshea Townsend (groin) and William Gay (groin), safety Anthony Smith (groin), defensive end Brett Keisel (groin) and linebacker Anthony Trucks (back) missed practice Tuesday. ... Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was limited by a groin injury, skipping team drills, and likely won't play in the preseason opener Friday against Philadelphia. ... Defensive end Jordan Reffett has been excused from practice for the past two days to be with his wife for the birth of the couple's second child.