One of the biggest stories coming out of the Pittsburgh Steelers facilities this week has actually been overshadowed by injuries and the return of Mike Wallace to the practice field. One of the reasons for the silence is the reality that fans and coaches knew this was coming from the day that the schedule was released. That news, starting safety Ryan Clark will be held out do to his complications from sickle cell trait.Ryan Mundy will again start at free safety against the Denver Broncos. However, there is a big difference this season in what will be expected from his performance. Unlike last season, when they took on a Broncos team led by Tim Tebow in the playoffs, future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning leads this team.
With Manning at the helm, the offense will look very different from the run-first mentality from 2011. Sure, he will be making his first start since 2010 after missing 2011 with a neck injury, but Manning is Manning and the Steelers should be prepared to face the no-huddle attack he perfected in Indianapolis.
For Mundy, he is experienced at both safety positions, but at times looks more comfortable as an in-the-box safety vice playing back in coverage. While that could be an important trait against the stretch plays that are surely in the Broncos arsenal, his prowess in coverage and as the defensive backfields signal caller will be challenged in this game by Manning’s cerebral approach.
Mundy, who signed his $1.26 million restricted free agent tender to remain with the Steelers, will be making his second consecutive start. The former sixth-round selection from West Virginia University (Woodland Hills High School) has been preparing all offseason for the opportunity to make his fourth NFL start and to prove to the league he is a starting caliber safety in the NFL.
For the Steelers, Clark understands his role and the reasons he is being kept out of the game. In fact, although he cannot play, he may be one of the most important players on the practice field and on the sidelines this week. A game changer and defensive quarterback, he has battled Manning and has experience against his tendencies. Armed with that knowledge, he should be able to provide Mundy with insight the team did not have last season against the Tebow led Broncos.
Armed with Clark’s mental assistance, Mundy has a chance to shine against the Broncos and prove his worth. More importantly, for the Steelers to win, Mundy has to prove he is a worthy starter that has the ability to make plays when needed and they will need him Sunday night.
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