By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers basically put a gag order on their players, as far as the James Harrison incident and subsequent $75,000 fine by the NFL were concerned, but that couldn’t choke out comments by hard-hitting safety Ryan Clark.
While Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith said: “No comment,” and other notable locker-room spokesmen Hines Ward, James Farrior and Troy Polamalu weren’t available at all, Clark talked. He said he wasn’t going to, but he talked anyway. Harrison also was unavailable for comment.
“I don’t think (the game) is as rough as it used to be,” Clark said. “They’ve done research on concussions, former player Sean Morey has done a great job with that, so I think the NFL is doing the right thing to pay attention to those things. But I don’t know if we’re going the right way about it. Levying fines and possible suspensions might not be the way to go.
“They made their point about it and have made a big issue with the media showing the hits over and over again, so we have to hit lower. Where do you go from here? We don’t want to see knee injuries, hip contusions, thigh bruises, hip replacements and things like that. But it could happen. You have to hit guys within the rules, and hitting a guy low is legal.”
Harrison, the reason local interest was so high, met with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin Wednesday morning. Tomlin excused Harrison for the day and then somewhat addressed the issue after practice.
Mostly, though, he said the meeting between he and Harrison was private and he wouldn’t delve into speculation and “water cooler talk.” Tomlin did make one point.
“This is a very emotional thing for James,” Tomlin said. “He’s a very disciplined and regimented guy, who’s passionate about the game of football. And it bothers him that he maybe is being perceived as a dirty player. He doesn’t desire to be. He simply wants to play the game and play it extremely well.”
While Harrison apparently left it open as to whether or not he would return to the Steelers or retire from football, Tomlin was confident that Harrison would return to work Thursday. The only reason he wasn’t there Wednesday was because Tomlin sent him home, basically to cool off.
Clark made another interesting point. Troy Polamalu apparently took a head shot from Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis, who is some 40 pounds heavier than the Steelers safety. Hillis lowered his head, Clark said, and “hit Troy in the face. (But) nobody talked about that.”
Clark also mentioned what happened to Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, who was drilled after an interception against the Browns.
“Troy didn’t lay on the ground, and that wasn’t shown over and over again on TV, Clark said. “Ike was held up after his interception. He basically was in the grasp and falling to the ground, but he was hit in the facemask.”
Clark, a ferocious hitter in his own right, discussed his style.
“I think if you look at all of my hits, on the McGahee hit, I lowered my shoulder,” Clark said. “He saw me and tried to crouch down and protect himself. And our helmets ended up hitting. I guess, in today’s NFL, that would end up with me being fined or suspended. But I don’t know how to change that.
“I aim for somebody’s number, he ducks, and our helmets hit. I guess I would be wrong, but I just have to keep playing. The Wes Welker hit, I hit him with all arm and shoulder, so that would be a different call now. I guess we’ll see what happens from here, see what’s going to happen this week.”
While Harrison didn’t talk to anyone in the local media, he spoke on national programs like the Dan Patrick Show and Sirus XM’s Mad Dog Radio.
Harrison commented on the Mohamed Massaquoi hit, for which he was fined.
“Even if you want to say is was helmet-to-helmet, it really wasn’t helmet-to-helmet,” Harrison said. “His helmet hit my shoulder pad if you slow everything down and look at it. We didn’t actually hit helmets. It was the shoulder pad. And he lowered his target area by a good three feet. I mean, there’s nothing really else I can do, and that’s why I’m so frustrated.
“How can I continue to play this game the way that I’ve been taught to play this game since I was 10 years old? And now you’re telling me that everything that they’ve taught me from that time on, for the last 20-plus years, is not the way you’re supposed to play the game anymore. If that’s the case, I can’t play by those rules. You’re handicapping me.”
Harrison noted that the NFL is selling still pictures of the hit he was fined on and said that “I guess the NFL is trying to make money off the front end and the back end of it.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he supported Harrison all the way and added that the Steelers always were and always will be known as a hard-nosed, physical football team.
“Even before I was born, it was that way,” Roethlisberger said. “It?s not a game for wimps. I don?t mean to say things like that, but you can?t come out and play this game like that, if you think you are going to get hurt and worry about it too much. (And) I’d much rather have a concussion than a blown-out knee. You’d rather have neither. No one goes out there and tries to hurt anybody.
“(But) it depends what type of concussion it is. Just because you get a little woozy, technically, that?s a concussion. But no one wants to be knocked out where your brain is swelling and all that stuff. Just to be a little woozy, guys would take that over maybe never walking again.”
Notes: Right OG Trai Essex (ankle) is improving every day and could be ready to play by the end of the week. He has missed the past three games. … Brett Keisel (hamstring) is out, so either Nick Eason or Ziggy Hood will start at right defensive end. … Eason suffered a knee and ankle injury against the Browns, and Hood has been battling an ankle injury since Week 2, which has slowed his progress. But both should be ready to play Sunday at Miami. … Steve McLendon likely will be activated for the game, but the DT won’t know for a couple days.