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Steelers' Clark: Polamalu third-best safety in NFL

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 2:54 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
The Steelers' Troy Polamalu plays against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium Dec. 2, 2012.
The Steelers' Ryan Clark directs his frustation over a third quarter penalty towards the referees at Heinz Field Sunday, October 7, 2012.
The Steelers' Ryan Clark breaks up a second quarter pass intended for the Jets' Stephen Hill at Heinz Field Sept. 16, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
ASSOCIATED PRESS
This is a 2012 photo of Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers NFL football team. This image reflects the Pittsburgh Steelers active roster as of Wednesday, June 6, 2012 when this image was taken. (AP Photo)
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Troy Polamalu plays against the Browns in December 2012 at Heinz Field.

Troy Polamalu redefined the role for an NFL safety with his versatility and playmaking skills, but Steelers teammate Ryan Clark thinks he's only the No. 3 player at his position right now.

Clark, appearing as a guest commentator on ESPN, said he wished he could rank Polamalu ahead of Earl Thomas of Seattle and Dashon Goldson of Tampa Bay, but he can't.

“This was a decision for me,” Clark said of ranking Polamalu third among his top five safeties in the league. “Here is a guy I really want to put at No. 1, but he's had some injuries over the past few years and hasn't been as effective. He's a guy I feel like can be No. 1 if we get him back fully healthy.”

Polamalu missed nine games with a torn calf last season, and his absence clearly affected a Steelers defense that nevertheless finished No. 1 in the league. Clark has played alongside Polamalu since 2006 and he bragged about his skills.

“Anticipation, just innate ability to know the snap count, or know where receivers want to go, know where a quarterback wants to throw the ball,” Clark said on ESPN's NFL Live. “He's been an awesome player for years and years in this league.”

Clark, never one to shy from an opinion, also appears to be looking forward to the Steelers-Patriots game on Nov. 3. He believes New England downgraded its offense by letting slot receiver Wes Welker sign with Denver and bringing in Danny Amendola to replace him.

“I know they think Danny Amendola can come in and have the same type of numbers he had with the Rams, but we also have to remember he's fragile,” Clark said. “He's not a guy who has completed a whole season, especially playing in what can be a physical AFC East. You also think about (Rob) Gronkowski and the (arm) injury; that is going to be bigger than anything for the New England Patriots this year.”

Clark also said the key to controlling Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is to make him “see ghosts” by throttling his receivers early on during a play while pressuring him and forcing him to spend extra time before delivering the ball.

“In 2010, we saw it with the Jets in the playoffs,” Clark said. “When Tom Brady gets pressure and when you're man-to-man and bumping those guys and making it harder for him to throw, he sees ghosts.”

The Steelers effectively controlled Brady during a 25-17 win in 2011, the first time they had beaten him since 2004.

“We played them and dominated them because we went man-to-man and had a big corner in Cortez Allen on Gronkowski and made it hard for Tom Brady to get the ball off, in timing, and made him have to make plays,” Clark said. “It was hard for him.”

It hasn't always been that way. Brady is 6-2 against the Steelers, with regular-season losses at Heinz Field in 2004 and 2011.

Still, Clark said, “Even when guys aren't around him, even when he's not about to be sacked, when his clock goes off in his head that the ball should be out, we'll see him duck, we'll see him flinch. When you see Tom Brady doing that, the whole New England Patriots mystique goes away.”

The Patriots are 6-3 against the Steelers since Brady arrived in 2001, with one loss coming when he was injured and out for the season in 2008.

Clark isn't the first Steelers safety to talk confidently of opposing the Patriots. In 2007, Anthony Smith “guaranteed” a Steelers win at Foxborough over a Patriots team that would go 16-0 that season. The Patriots won 34-13.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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