Signed as training camp began in 2004 after being let go by the New York Giants, safety Ryan Clark found a home in Washington. By Week 6, Clark was starting on a defense that would rank in the top 10 during both of his seasons. The Redskins were 14-12 with Clark in the lineup (including their only playoff victory since 1999), 3-5 when he wasn’t.
However, the Redskins didn’t try hard to re-sign Clark when he became a free agent after the 2005 season. They chose instead to throw millions at fellow safety Adam Archuleta. Clark, who signed with Pittsburgh, returns to FedEx Field tonight for the first time as a Steeler, knowing that Archuleta, Troy Vincent and Vernon Fox all failed to replace him.
“It doesn’t vindicate me or give me revenge on the organization,” Clark said of the Redskins’ tumble to second-worst on defense in 2006. “[Linebacker] Marcus Washington and [cornerback] Ade Jimoh are some of my best friends in the world. It hurt me to see those guys go through last season with the defense not playing well.”
“I reached out to Adam to let him know some little things that I learned when I was in Washington,” Clark said. “I know the defensive coaches. I know the organization. I know how the city is, how the media is. I knew it could be a tough situation, especially with the money he was making and replacing a guy who was valued on and off the field. I told him just to be himself. He was very receptive.”
Obviously, Clark, who still has a home in Leesburg, Va., and visits Redskin Park occasionally, doesn’t hold a grudge.
“I did want to re-sign, but I have no hard feelings towards the coaches,” Clark said. “[Redskins owner Dan] Snyder called me afterwards and told me he had valued what I had done for the Redskins. I still don’t agree with the decision they made. In the end, my play will be enough satisfaction for me to let them know that they made a mistake.”
The Redskins are paying Archuleta $4.5 million not to play for them this season after giving him to Chicago for a sixth-round draft choice. And Washington bypassed needed help for its defensive line and used the sixth pick in this year’s draft on safety LaRon Landry, who not only succeeded Clark at LSU but is a first cousin of Clark’s wife, Yonka.
“I’ve been knowing LaRon since he was 15, 16 years old so it was good to see the Redskins pick him up,” the 27-year-old Clark said. “I think he’s going to do great.”
Clark’s first season with the Steelers wasn’t great. The defending Super Bowl champions had to rally to finish 8-8 after a 2-6 start. Clark started the first 12 games before a groin injury ruined his final month. He’s now battling second-year man Anthony Smith to start but should get the nod tonight with Smith bothered by an ailing abdomen.
“It was tough last year, especially when we started 2-6 coming off the Super Bowl, but Pittsburgh has been good,” Clark said. “It was a tough adjustment for my wife because we had gotten so deeply rooted in Washington. [But] this is the closest-knit team I’ve ever been around and playing for [longtime defensive coordinator Dick] LeBeau has definitely been a blessing.”
New coach Mike Tomlin, a former defensive backs coach, praised Clark more for his work ethic than his athletic ability. But then that’s always been the case for the 5-foot-11, 205-pound safety, who made the Giants as a rookie free agent in 2002.
“Ryan has been awesome,” Tomlin said. “He’s very professional. He’s always up. He has a passion for playing this game and he plays it above the neck. He’s very consistent on a day-to-day basis. You know what you’re going to get from him.”
“[In Smith] they see a taller, more well-built young kid who’ll make big plays every now and then,” Clark said. “I’m kind of coming from behind. We’ll see what happens.”