Ryan Clark didn't sound like a man swooning in a post Super Bowl hangover when he met the media Friday afternoon in Pittsburgh. The Steeler defensive back sounded like a man who had found a way to be on the wrong end of the final score this past February in Tampa.
"We didn't get the job done when it counted. We gave up a touchdown when it counted the most."
Clark called himself and the rest of his defensive teammates out before the interview ended. He demanded that they remember the Arizona Cardinals' last drive as something that happens when they aren't prepared to do their best.
These words ought to scare the rest of the NFL to death. If Clark is right and the Steelers suffocating defense has another gear, another level to show this season, the idea of winning a game in February is a very real possibility.
In this day of the salary cap, a Super Bowl champion is normally spiked by the salary cap and finds itself entering camp with a hole or two or three that demand immediate attention.
The Steelers arrived at St. Vincent College having said goodbye to linebacker Larry Foote, who would have lost his starting job to Lawrence Timmons regardless of the cap. They also found a way to pay defensive MVP James Harrison enough to stick around and even afford the new Smart car he drove to training camp.
The only real question for the team that has two of the last four Lombardi Trophies on public display this week is: Can the offensive line get off to a better start than last year?
The O line started slowly in 2008 and appeared to be well on the way to getting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger killed in a game in Philadelphia before righting the ship. The running game never really worked in short yardage situations, but Roethlisberger found ways to negate even that shortcoming when he had to.
Unlike last year, the Steelers aren't staring the toughest schedule in the league in 2009. Outside of the normal bruise-fest with the Baltimore Ravens the, Steelers trade a trip to New England for a run through Detroit and a Sunday in Oakland against the Raiders. Throw in skirmishes in Kansas City and against the Packers, as well as a pair of meetings with the Browns and Bengals, and there doesn't appear to be a roadblock in sight.
Ben Roethlisberger continues to grow into the mountain of a quarterback that repeat champions are built on. While his offseason has been somewhat clouded by off-field legal hassles, he has remained healthy through the offseason (unlike his last Super Bowl summer) and is continuing to take command of this team.
Troy Polamalu spent his offseason doing yoga and balance training in California and appears to be ready to terrorize offenses all season. Even the special teams look polished and new with the return of punter Daniel Sepulveda and the addition of CFL kick returner Stefan Logan.
Perhaps the soft-spoken Polamalu said it best on the opening day of training camp when he told the gathered media horde "I've been around long enough to know how this all works. If we stay healthy, there is no reason we won't be there again."
Troy, is that a threat or a promise?