Overview: No other position was as effected by injuries as significantly as the safety position was in 2007. Together the two starters combined to miss 16 games. The effects of their absence became more apparent as the season progressed. The four safeties on the 2007 roster are all signed through at least 2008 and none of them should be in danger of being cut.
Age and '07 Statistics: 26 years old (4/19/81), 58 total tackles, 9 passes defended in 11 games
Contract Status: signed through 2011 with cap hits of $4.57 million (2008), $7.245 million (2009), $9.045 million (2010), $9.345 million (2011)
2007 Analysis: Troy suffered through a couple of different injuries and played in a career low 11 games. He also set a career low (not counting his rookie year, when he wasn't a starter) in tackles, sacks (0), and interceptions (0). Polamalu was still pretty effective when he was healthy but he lacked the special playmaking ability that made him so popular and disruptive in previous seasons.
2008 Outlook: 2007 was the second consecutive season that injuries kept Troy from playing a full season, or anything even close to it. His reckless style of play is what has made him great but at the same time it has to be considered a contributing factor to the recent rash of injuries. Hopefully the past two seasons were not a sign of things to come. Troy at some point might have to scale back his kamikazi style in order to stay healthy, but the question is whether he is the same type of impact player without it. Either way though, it doesn't take a genius to look at the remainder of his contract and realize how vital it is for the Steelers to have a healthy and productive Troy Polamalu patrolling the secondary.
Age and '07 Statistics: 24 years old (9/20/83), 69 total tackles, 2 Ints, and 3 passes defended in 16 games (10 starts)
Contract Status: signed through 2008 with a cap hit of $619K
2007 Analysis: Smith probably had the most up and down season of any Steelers player in 2007. He lost a preseason battle with Ryan Clark for the starting free safety job only to see Clark suffer a freak spleen injury just six games into the season. After Clark went down, Smith burst on the scene in a big way the very next game against Cincinnati. He had a couple of crushing hits on both Cincy receivers and totaled 10 tackles. Smith performed great for the next couple of games and at times had us all wondering how he didn't win the job in the preseason. But, it only took two absolutely horrible games to bring Smith back down to earth and the bench, and to remind us that at only 24 years of age, Smith still has plenty to learn. After getting beat repeatedly in both games, he was benched for third string safety, Tyrone Carter.
2008 Analysis: There's no doubt that Smith had a rough 2007, but there also shouldn't be any doubt that this guy has the physical tools to be a really good safety in this league. At his age some immaturity and lack of discipline shouldn't be all that surprising, but when he plays up to his ability, he has the potential to be a good player. Smith is entering the final year of his rookie contract and if he wants to chance to play in Pittsburgh he'll have to play better in all areas in 2008.
Age and '07 Statistics: 28 years old (10/12/79), 22 tackles, 1 sack, 3 passes defended in 6 games
Contract Status: signed through 2009 with cap hits of $2.2 million (2008) and $2.4 million (2009)
2007 Analysis: Clark was off to a solid start in 2007 and on pace for around 60 tackles before an odd pre-existing injury to his spleen caused him to miss the final ten games of the year. Clark isn't a flashy player like his younger counterpart Anthony Smith but he's a reliable veteran who knows where to be at all times, no matter what the offense is doing. His value was underestimated until we got to see this defense without him.
2008 Outlook: Clark is still relatively young and as long as he can fully recover from this injury there's no reason why he shouldn't be a starter for the next couple of years. Clark's main job at free safety is to stay deep and he does it better than anyone who is currently on the roster. His reliability and consistency is a true asset to the Steelers future.
Age and '07 Statistics: 31 years old (3/31/76), 56 tackles, .5 sacks, 2 passes defended in 16 games
Contract Status: signed through 2009, with cap hits of $823K (2008) and $838 (2009)
2007 Analysis: Carter played in all sixteen games and started 5 of them. He filled in pretty well for a third string safety, although ultimately his 2007 will be remembered for getting juked by David Garrard in the playoff game. Carter is best suited as a backup safety and special team's player but he's not horrible if he has to start a game or two. In his first two starts he totaled 20 tackles.
2008 Outlook: Carter's price tag is cheap enough to keep him around for the remainder of his contract and he's versatile enough to play both safety spots. He's probably better suited to play the strong safety role because he's a better tackler/run supporter than a deep cover guy. Hopefully the next several years will be marked by fewer injuries than was the case in 2007, allowing Carter to focus on special teams as opposed to being a starting safety.
Needs: If there were fewer holes in the OL and DL, safety might be a higher priority in this years draft. When this unit is healthy, its a strong unit with plenty of depth. But as soon as Troy gets dinged the safety position is in trouble. If Smith can take a step towards becoming a more reliable player and away from a volatile, inconsistent youngster, the safety position can be the strength of our secondary, as well as one of the better overall units on either side of the ball. Where do you rank the secondary position in terms of need going into the draft and free agency period? Can Smith turn the corner and become the player some of us still believe that he can be?