Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark have been dominant safeties for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both are in their early thirties and have been in the league over a decade. That’s a long run for any player, let alone a defensive player. No one can argue their strengths.
Troy Polamalu plays the game not just physically, but mentally. He watches the quarterback and anticipates plays. Polamalu gets inside the heads of quarterbacks because they always focus on where he is. It makes him a double threat. He has a quick sprint speed, when he is healthy, that no other safety really seems to copy.
Ryan Clark also has impressive numbers and even with the sickle-cell trait issue, which cost him his spleen and gall bladder in 2007, he doesn’t back away from playing physically. Ryan Clark has made some headlines because of comments over the years, but his work off the field with charities and as the NFLPA player rep for the Steelers has contributed to his value to the Steelers.
However, now that they have earned the “veteran” tag, the Steelers have to be wondering if Clark and Polamalu can stay healthy. The Steelers may need to plan to use their expertise but perhaps not for every down. Polamalu’s track record with injury makes sense when you look at his style of play. It’s what is unique about him and makes him hard to plan for, but it can take a toll.
I don’t think the Steelers should get rid of either player, but can they still both be workhorses? Will training camp be a good indicator? Well, a lot of veterans don’t get the playing time in the camps because they don’t need it the same way that younger players need to learn and be evaluated. Also, the Steelers won’t want to see them risk injury in the pre-season. Clark and Polamalu’s injury risk is a concern. Where’s the balance going to be?
Looking the Safeties on the roster, the Steelers have a mix of very experienced and very young. The other two safeties on the roster are Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith and Robert Golden. While I’m sure both have potential, it’s the lack of anyone in the middle on the experience level that concerns me, particularly with veteran players with an injury history. Cromartie-Smith has been with the organization since 2011, mostly on the practice squad and played six regular season games over the last two seasons. The Steelers re-signed him to the roster on Dec 26th, 2012. Golden played for the Steelers last year and was in 15 games and is credited with six solo tackles and two assists. He didn’t start any games and I’m not sure exactly how many plays he was in for.
In the days of salary cap issues and contract negotiations that seem to go haywire, it is probably impossible to keep a depth chart on any one position that has a graduated level of experience. Also, years in the league or even lack of years in the league guarantee nothing. However, conventional wisdom suggests that the Steelers may not have the right mix for depth at the Safety position. This isn’t a problem to fix in the draft and unfortunately there are a lot of other holes to fill first. So, even though the Steelers should be concerned about their aging Safeties, it is not the biggest problem. It looks like we just have to cross our fingers that neither Clark nor Polamalu become injured and Golden and Cromartie-Smith get some more experience.