Ryan Clark won't play vs. Broncos

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday said he will not allow safety Ryan Clark to play in Sunday's AFC wild-card game in Denver against the Broncos out of fear for Clark's health.

Clark has sickle cell trait, a condition that can be problematic in the high altitude of Denver. In a 2007 game there, Clark became violently ill and lost his spleen and gallbladder in addition to losing 30 pounds because of deprivation of oxygen to his major organs.

Clark told ESPN's Josina Anderson that he wanted to play in the game and was planning to do so until Tomlin told him he couldn't.

"I mean, everybody knows I want to play and I would have played," he told ESPN. "I talked to my doctors and we actually had a plan in place for me to play. All things pointed to me going until (Tomlin) told me I can't. He said he wouldn't have let his son play and so I'm not playing either."

Tomlin also didn't let Clark play in a 2009 regular-season game at Denver and didn't clear him for a preseason game there last year.

Clark said it wasn't a "shock" that he won't play, but he thought it might be different this time, considering it's the playoffs.

"It would have been an amazing triumph to come back and play there, to have things come full circle and to be all right. So to not be on the field is disheartening, but God has his plan," he told ESPN.

The 32-year-old safety led the Steelers with 100 tackles. Clark will be replaced with Ryan Mundy, who has two career starts.

Tomlin and Clark met Monday to discuss the situation, with Tomlin telling the team's leading tackler he can travel but not suit up.

"Looking at data and all the variables he is at more risk, so we're not going to play him," Tomlin said. "It's just that simple."

Clark thanked Steelers fans for their concern in a Twitter post he made Tuesday afternoon.

He wrote: "Well I guess we all know now. I will not be playing. Glad that it's out now. So no more questions to ask. Thanks for your concern!"

Clark's teammates urged the 10-year veteran to sit out, with defensive end Brett Keisel and linebacker James Farrior both insisting the game isn't more important than Clark's life.

Mundy, who has two career starts on his resume, will get the call in place of Clark. The former West Virginia star has played well in spot duty and collected his first career interception in a win at Kansas City in late November.

"In a nutshell, he's starter-capable," Tomlin said.

Veterans Will Allen and Bryant McFadden could also see spot duty if Mundy does not play well. The Broncos (8-8) have struggled with quarterback Tim Tebow's passing game, finishing 31st in the league in passing yards.

The Steelers should get a boost from the return of linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who has spent the second half of the season dealing with a strained left hamstring. Woodley is expected to play as is starting left guard Doug Legursky, who missed last week's game with a left shoulder injury.

While Clark will be missed, at least he'll be back if the Steelers advance. The same can't be said for running back Rashard Mendenhall, who is out for the entire postseason after tearing the ACL in his right knee in Sunday's 13-9 victory over Cleveland.

Isaac Redman and rookie John Clay will get the first crack at replacing Mendenhall. Veteran Mewelde Moore could be available as he recovers from a sprained left knee but Tomlin wouldn't speculate on if he would use Moore -- a third-down back -- in a feature role.

"We'll etch out a division of labor as we get closer," Tomlin said. "We like the group."

Tomlin isn't concerned about Redman's two fumbles against the Browns, miscues that allowed Cleveland to hang around until the final seconds. Clay received all nine of his carries in the fourth quarter, but Tomlin said that had more to do with giving Redman a breather.

The Steelers hope the running game will be able to take some of the pressure off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who continues to deal with a painful left ankle sprain that's limited his effectiveness recently.

Though Roethlisberger passed the ball 40 times against Cleveland and was sacked twice Tomlin believes the ankle is "certainly no worse" while adding he's "not concerned about (Roethlisberger's) overall physical state" though the quarterback may be limited in practice during the week.

Roethlisberger's numbers have taken a hit while playing basically on one leg. His passer rating over his last two starts is 62.1, down from 95.5 before getting hurt on Dec. 8.

Tomlin isn't exactly bothered by the downturn in Roethlisberger's efficiency.

"He won last week," Tomlin said, "That's how he's measured and that's how I'm measured."

Information from ESPN NFL reporter Josina Anderson, AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley and The Associated Press was used in this report.