Loose lips sink ships, and anonymous players can fracture the structural integrity of a locker room forged of steel, sweat and blood.
The Pittsburgh Steelers starting safety Ryan Clark joined the NFL Network's NFL AM on Monday to answer a multitude of questions surrounding the same subjects swirling through the minds of Steelers fans everywhere. His most telling answer came at the topic of his fellow teammate, LaMarr Woodley.
On Sunday, Ron Cook quoted an unnamed player in regards to Woodley and an alleged lack of conditioning leading to his chronic injuries. While he did reassure his interviewers Woodley was in Arizona working with his own personal trainer, Clark was quick to point out the true problem which was exposed by the anonymous comments, and it had little to do with Woodley's workout regimen.
"My biggest problem with that is not LaMarr, or is not someone's feelings about LaMarr; my problem is now it's public. We were talking about the Ravens earlier, we were talking about the brotherhood, we were talking about the family that they were. We all have arguments with our brothers, sisters, cousins, but that stays in-house. What you talk about then stays there and it doesn't get out to the public. So that is the problem."
"That shows that this team that is normally close, you had the Joey Porters, the Alan Fanecas, just down the line, leader after leader, this team was close-knit. It shows there is a fracture in that. I think that is the most disappointing thing about that coming out."
The fracture Clark spoke of reached its widest span in 2012. From the beginning of training camp, Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley were rumored and appeared at times to be butting heads. Rashard Mendenhall intentionally skipped a game after being allegedly demoted for fumbling and focus issues. Mike Wallace spoke openly about a difficulty focusing during games due to a lack of consistent pass targets, despite being the team's top receiver on the depth chart. Rookie Alameda Ta'amu had an intoxicated run in with police. Chris Rainey lost his job, after losing his temper with his girlfriend over a cell phone; and now, unnamed players are pointing public fingers. All exactly the types of things not usually found associated with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
As Clark points out, age may have something to do with it. He admitted to the reality the entire veteran defense is only getting older; but outside of Roethlisberger, the offense as a group is very young. Clark pointed to Mendenhall as an example.
Mendenhall is the oldest guy in the running back department, and normally younger players look up to the elder player of their group; but Mendenhall is just a young man himself. Clark points out players like Mendenhall and Wallace are the best of their positional groups, but have yet to really win or prove anything on their own. While he didn't single out Antonio Brown individually, Clark did seem to insinuate the other younger players have not achieved the same level of self-awareness Brown has exhibited through interviews and his presence in the training facility, even now.
Clark said he felt the coaches needed to set forth a literal agenda for team leaders to follow. Basically, if they don't know what standard they are supposed to uphold, define it for them so there is no misunderstanding. He also feels the players need to do a better job at resolving their issues in-house, and not in public view. It simply isn't part of the Steeler Way.
While many feel these players should already understand the task at hand, we often forget many of these players were not around for Super Bowl victories. Mendenhall was drafted in 2008, but broke his shoulder early against the Ravens, eliminating himself from the remainder to the Steelers last championship season. Wallace and Brown have only been here for the loss to the Green Bay Packers in 2010. Clark points out there are few remaining in the locker room who own two rings, some only have one and most have none.
Another interesting comment from Clark came on the subject of the veteran ring bearers.
"These are the guys I want to play with. These are the guys I want to win Super Bowls with."
Perhaps this comment defines the fracture even better than Clark did so eloquently. The Steelers roster currently houses two generations at the same time. While these players can work together, it is possible the younger players simply cannot relate with what remains of the old regime. With a new CBA in place and a game shifting more toward player safety, the men who rebuilt the house of steel find themselves caught out of time, in a league preparing to move on and leave them behind.
Later in the day, Clark appeared on the Dave Dameshek Football Program, where he was asked for his opinion on the identity of the source.
"I think it's someone that plays defense. I would say they felt personally let down by it, I wish he was out there with us type of situation."
While Clark did not name specific names, his comments combined leave reason to believe he feels it was one of the younger players on the defense. Younger players did have a tendency for speaking out unnecessarily through the press at times this past season, whether the topic be candy bars, lack of focus or what have you. Unfortunately, the list of possible suspects isn't narrowed very much by Clark's parameters. Despite the antique reputation the Steelers have been forced to fight through the past two seasons, the roster as a whole is actually relatively young
With most of the team's over-30 crowd expected to be gone within the next two seasons, the Steelers will need to show extra care in the future selecting players who will uphold the standard both on, and off the field.
Speaking of off the field, Clark seemed very comfortable in the television studio. Perhaps when his playing career is over he will make the transition to broadcasting. He certainly has gotten plenty of practice speaking into microphones over the past year.