The countdown to Latrobe is now just 10 days away and we will now switch gears to start previewing the defensive side of the ball and start with the safety position. From now until training camp we will have a new preview every other day, so stay tuned. Make sure to read our previous position previews linked below.
Training Camp Preview – Defensive Line |Training Camp Preview – Safeties |Training Camp Preview – Linebackers | Training Camp Preview – Offensive Line | Training Camp Preview – Tight Ends | Training Camp Preview – Wide Receivers | Training Camp Preview – Running Backs | Training Camp Preview – Quarterbacks
Overview: The safety position in 2009 was average at best with the loss of Troy Polamalu to a knee injury that occurred in week 1 and went on to miss 11 games because of it. Tyrone Carter was awful in attempting to replace him and the loss also seemed to affect free safety Ryan Clark as well as the tandem seemed out of sorts. Carter is now gone and Will Allen was signed via free agency to assume the Carter role as backup.
Troy Polamalu: They say one man does not make a team, but the hole left by Polamalu was un-fillable. In the 11 games missed in 2009, the Steelers went 5-6 and they are 11-8 in games he has missed thus far in his career. Polamalu has been back training in California with Marv Marinovich and has made a few OTA sessions this offseason. By all accounts, he is near 100% and looks to regain his place as one of the leagues top strong safeties. Look for Polamalu to take more of a leadership role this year on defense as well. Communication was not a strong point with the secondary in 2009 and Polamalu can help that by becoming more vocal and making sure every one on defense is on the same page. Look for Troy to be brought along slowly in camp and pre-season as he knows defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s defense inside and out and must save whatever wear and tear he can on his body early in the season. Troy is primed for a comeback player of the year type season as long as he stays healthy.
Ryan Clark: At the start of the offseason, it seemed the Steelers were going to lose Ryan Clark via free agency. Clark tested the waters and was rumored to be close to signing with Miami, when he had a change of heart and told his agent to get something done so he could remain in Pittsburgh. Clark ended up signing a four-year, $17 million contract and will be back starting opposite Polamalu at free safety. Clark is not afraid to hit and still has great range at over 30. More importantly he works well in tandem with Polamalu and gives the Steelers stability at the safety position. Clark finished second on the team in 2009 with 110 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions and surpassed 500 tackles for his career in the process. If both he and Polamalu can stay on the field, they can help vault the Steelers defense back to one of the strongest units in the league. Clark seems to feed off of Polamalu and I would not rule out a Pro Bowl year out of the veteran free safety. It is good we kept him in Pittsburgh and did not let him get away via free agency.
Will Allen: Will Allen is the prototypical Mike Tomlin type player willing to do anything asked of him. Allen spent the past six seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he once worked with Tomlin when Tomlin coached the Bucs defensive backs. Allen can play both safety positions and also is known for contributing on special teams and served as the special teams captain last season in Tampa. Allen ended the 2009 season on injured reserve after breaking his thumb, but surgery corrected it and he is now back to 100%. Allen is a huge upgrade over Tyrone Carter, but hopefully will only be needed in spot duty at either safety spot. He does know the cover 2 secondary defense Tomlin likes to run and should fit in perfectly in the locker room as well. His special teams play is sorely needed and he should upgrade the unit drastically.
Ryan Mundy: 2009 was a growing and learning period for the Steelers 2008 sixth round draft pick. With the injury to Polamalu, he saw more playing time and showed he is past the learning curve. He is still a bit reckless however as evident in the game versus the Oakland Raiders as he was flagged for a late hit on Raiders wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins that led to the Raiders winning touchdown. Just three plays earlier, cornerback William Gay sustained a concussion when accidentally struck by Mundy as the two were covering Louis Murphy. Another offseason under his belt and a good training camp, should make Mundy a little less like a bull in a China shop so he can relax and just play football. Mundy is another special teams contributor as well and should be one of 4 safeties active on game days. Mundy can play both safety spots as well, but seems to fit better as strong safety then he does a free safety. Regardless, he should have no problems making the 53 man roster once again.
Anthony Madison: Anthony is merely a camp body at this point and a special teams contributor. He will be worked mostly at safety during camp, but should not have much of a chance to make the roster.
Tuff Harris: Harris is another camp body and hold over from the 2009 practice squad. He will get work late in preseason games and then sent on his way. I doubt he will return to the practice squad as well.
Justin Thornton: Thornton was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Kansas in April. Thornton is being worked at free safety thus far and also played cornerback while at KU as well. He is versatile and could be a prospect for the practice squad with a strong camp and preseason. He should get quite a bit of playing time late in preseason games to make an impression. He is a project right now and it will take a minor miracle and numerous injuries for Justin to make the 53 man roster.
Likely Training Camp Depth Chart:
SS1 Troy Polamalu SS2 Will Allen SS3 Ryan Mundy SS4 Anthony Madison
FS1 Ryan Clark FS2 Will Allen FS3 Ryan Mundy FS4 Tuff Harris FS5 Justin Thornton
Summation: The Steelers only bring 7 safeties into camp, so it is not hard to decipher the 4 they will keep of this bunch. Allen is a major upgrade over Tyrone Carter from last season and the whole unit should be fine barring injury as Polamalu and Clark make a great tandem. Mundy will continue to grow and learn and should fully understand things now and be much more relaxed in the defense. Look for some great play and hard hits in 2010 from this group as it is nice to have everyone back together again healthy.