Clint Kriewaldt, Steelers Linebacker, 2003-2007
First, can you tell readers what you are doing with yourself these days?
I have been working as a police officer for the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Dept. in Wisconsin for the last 2 years.
How is your health? You had suffered a severe neck injury playing in Pittsburgh?
For the most part my health is o.k. I have pain in my neck that I experience everyday, and the same is true with my left shoulder. It will be something that I will have to live with.
You were actually a very good running back in high school. What made you convert to linebacker in college?
I went to college as a running back and spent my redshirt freshman year as a running back. During training camp my second year they moved me to linebacker. I was disappointed at first, but realized that it was a good move when I was in the starting lineup two days later.
You were drafted and played in Detroit before coming to play for Pittsburgh. What made you decide to join the Steelers and how did they convince you to sign as a free agent?
I played for four years with the Lions and was an unrestricted free agent after those four years. Pittsburgh was the first team that called on the morning that free agency started. I was very excited that Pittsburgh was showing interest in me. They brought me out for a visit and I ended up signing a contract before I left their facilities.
Pittsburgh has always been a first class organization, and I knew my best chance of being part of a Super Bowl Championship Team was with them.
Your “forte” was excellent special teams play – what made you such a good special teams player, and did you feel “pigeon-holed” in the role as a special teams ace?
I loved playing Special Teams. Yes I wish that I was a full-time starter, but I always had some pretty good starters in front of me. I embraced the role of being a leader on special teams and worked very hard at it. Special Teams takes a different kind of a mind set to be able play. I hate to say it, but most of the standout players on Special Teams aren’t all there in the head. Not everyone is willing to run full speed into a wedge over and over again.
I enjoyed it, and knew that it was expected of me to make plays.
How did Coach Cowher and his special teams coaches prepare the Steelers special teams units? What drills and opportunities to practice in camp and each week did you get for special teams?
Special Teams is hard to practice. You can practice and go over all the drills you want, but you can never simulate what’s its going to be like in the game. Coach Cowher was huge on Special Teams play. He was not afraid to call guys out that were turning it down on gameday.
We also had a very good Special Teams coach at the time, Coach Spencer. He did a great job of game planning and getting us the information that we needed to be successful. He took a lot of heat when things went wrong, but it wasn’t his fault. The guys on the field have to be able to execute, and make plays. I really enjoyed playing for him.
What do you think of the NFL’s new rules on kickoffs – pushing kicks back to the 30 and new wedge-blocking rules? Do you think they’ll help protect players from injury and do you think it imposes too many restrictions on how impactful special teams can now be in the NFL?
The new rules for Special Teams in the N.F.L are good, and bad. It’s good for player’s health and safety, but it definitely limits teams on what they can do. I’d like to think that I would have had a few more years left in me if the new rules were installed during my career. Special Teams is a big weapon for a lot of teams, and with these new rules it does limit them.
I understand why They are doing it, but I think they need to leave it alone.
You started a few games in Pittsburgh and played very well as a linebacker in doing so. Were you frustrated not getting to more time to play as a linebacker?
I would have loved to be a full-time starter in the N.F.L. I had opportunities to fill in here and there when guys got hurt, but was never able to secure a every down spot. I felt I was an every down Linebacker, but also understood I had some pretty good ones in front of me. I prepared every week as though I was going to be starting. You never know when someone is going to get hurt. When they do you have to be ready.
As a backup I had to be able to step in and play as good or better than the starter. You never want to have a drop off in play, and I felt I was able to provide that.
When you first arrived in Pittsburgh, what coaches and players did you work most closely with, and how?
Coach Spencer and Coach Butler were the two coaches I worked the most with. Coach Butler is a former player and was an outstanding Linebacker Coach. When I came to Pittsburgh a 3-4 defense was brand new to me. I had never played that type of defense before. Coach Butler did a great job of explaining and making it easy to understand.
On Special Teams I worked with Coach Spencer. Coach Spencer and I had a great relationship. Between both of them, they made my transition to Pittsburgh very easy and enjoyable.
Who were the toughest guys you lined up against in practice – and what made them so?
Everyone was tough at practice. It is hard to pinpoint one guy. At that level they are there for a reason, because they are the best of the best.
What are some of your most memorable times playing in Pittsburgh?
I have a lot of great memories from Pittsburgh. I don’t even know where to begin. I can tell you that every time I hear Styx “Renegade” I get goose bumps! Man there is nothing better than being in Heinz Field when that song is played.
I also will never forget being part of a team that was coached by Cowher and LeBeau. Those are two class act legends that have definitely made their mark in the N.F.L. I’m very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play for them, and to have the relationship with them that I did.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Pittsburgh will always have a special place with my family. During my years with the Steelers my family was always treated with respect from the coaches and the fans. Steelers fans are truly the best fans in America. I am very proud to say that I was part of the Steelers, and a part of Pittsburgh. I will always be part of “Steeler Nation”.