Steelers' Haggans continues to produce sacks
He went to Colorado State as a walk-on and left as an NFL-ready player.
But Clark Haggans won't exactly consider it a homecoming when the Steelers play the Broncos at 8:15 tonight in Denver.
"Everyone that I know is gone, basically," Haggans said. "There's no Uncle Rusty or no your buddy Big Mike or Big Johnny or anybody like that. Those guys are all gone. I figured they all got jobs."
With apologies to Uncle Rusty, Big Mike and Big Johnny, none of them are doing better at their job than Haggans is these days.
The Steelers' left outside linebacker has already collected 3 1⁄2 sacks and is on pace for a double-digit season in that category. He's a big reason the Steelers' defense has been as good as any in the NFL through the first six weeks of the season.
It's also why prized rookie LaMarr Woodley, who shined during offseason practices and training camp, has spent more time on the sideline than on the field in the Steelers' first five games.
"Yes, the quality of (Haggans') play has limited the chances of opportunity for a guy like LaMarr Woodley," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He understands that, and I'm sure LaMarr does. I'm sure the next opportunity LaMarr gets to play, he is going to put his best foot forward.
"As coaches, we can talk about great speeches and all those things we do to motivate football teams, but you want to create an environment where guys get better. Competition is the ultimate motivator."
Haggans dismissed the notion that the drafting of Woodley in the second round gave him the nudge toward a season that is shaping up to be his best one as a Steeler.
He said his motivation has come from within.
Simply put, the eight-year veteran hates to lose.
"It wasn't about so-and-so got drafted or anything like that; 8-8 (last season) wasn't good enough," said Haggans, who has helped the Steelers start 4-1.
Much has been made about strong safety Troy Polamalu running around the field as if his flowing locks are on fire, but Haggans' intensity is also something to behold.
"He's full-speed, the whole game," defensive end Aaron Smith said. "I don't know how the man does it, but it's amazing to watch him play. He's got such a motor, and I don't think people realize how athletic he really is, too."
Haggans' production dipped last season -- the California native had six sacks after notching nine in 2005 -- but he said it had nothing to do with effort.
He said he tried to do too much last season, especially after the Steelers scuffled to a 2-6 start.
The 6-foot-4, 243-pounder attributed his improvement this season to "just playing with more common sense on the football field, not making dumb mistakes, not making silly guesses, not trying to do too much -- just playing smart, situational football."
Haggans, a fifth-round pick by the Steelers in 2000, is in the final year of his contract. He said impending free agency has had nothing to with his inspired play, and that he hopes to re-sign with the Steelers (the team does not generally engage in contact negotiations during the season).
"I'm not even trying to leave," Haggans said.
What a rush
Clark Haggans has quietly been one of the top pass-rushing linebackers in football over the last couple of seasons. Here is where Haggans ranks at his position in sacks since 2004.
1. Shawne Merriman, Chargers 30
2. Adalius Thomas, Ravens/Patriots 28
Terrell Suggs, Ravens 28
4. Shaun Phillips, Chargers 26
5. Haggans, Steelers 24.5
Joey Porter, Steelers/Dolphins 24.5