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fordfixer
09-03-2008, 11:34 PM
Polamalu looking for more hair-raising plays in 2008

By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer

dlolley@observer-reporter.com
http://www.observer-reporter.com/OR/Sto ... ction-main (http://www.observer-reporter.com/OR/Story/09-3-Polamalu-Section-main)

PITTSBURGH - In a sport filled with coaches who deal in subterfuge with the media and athletes who talk in clichés, Troy Polamalu stands distinctly apart.

There are no clichés with this straight-shooter. If you ask Polamalu an honest question, you'd better expect an honest answer.


When Mike Tomlin took over as head coach last season and released linebacker Joey Porter, Polamalu was one of the few people in the locker room to publicly question the move.

"Joey was the heart and soul of the defense, and losing him did change a lot," Polamalu said at the time. "We would be better overall if he was here. That would give us more depth at (the) linebacker spot. But James Harrison is doing an excellent job there. As a matter of fact, he's probably doing just as good a job as Joey would be doing. But yeah, of course, we would be better if Joey was here."

Then, when guard Alan Faneca was grousing about his contract status in mini-camp, Polamalu didn't mince words when he wondered about the future of the team under the direction of Tomlin.

"I think everybody's unsure about the direction of this team," Polamalu said. "It's a first-year coach.

"He's inherited a team. He didn't build it up from 13 years of being in the league, for example. Obviously, it's going to take time as a natural product of being a new coach."

That's why when you ask the Steelers' strong safety about his 2007 season, you can bet he's not going to overlook anything.

"I didn't feel like I had many opportunities, quite honestly, to make (big) plays," Polamalu said. "I did have some that I didn't seize. It was a lot different defense. It's really tough. We had one of the really great, best defenses in the history of football, statistically last year.

"Even though, statistically, I didn't have as great a year as I've had in the past, our defense played well."

When you set the bar as high as Polamalu did in the previous three seasons, anything short of spectacular just won't do. though he did make his fourth consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl.

From 2004 through '06, Polamalu was one of the most disruptive defensive players in the NFL, recording 279 tackles, five sacks and 10 interceptions.

Last season, however, Polamalu had no sacks, no interceptions and missed five games with knee and rib injuries. He also left another game early with an abdominal injury.

Polamalu had surgery in the offseason to repair a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his knee, then spent the offseason working out in California with trainer Marv Marinovich, with whom he had worked with in the past.

Marinovich uses a non-conformist style or training that disdains conventional weights and machines in favor of medicine balls, a wobble board and other techniques.

Polamalu had not worked out with Marinovich in previous seasons, instead staying in Pittsburgh to work out with the Steelers. But coming off the knee injury, he felt it was necessary to get back to basics.

The Steelers felt that as long as Polamalu was comfortable with that workout, then they were comfortable.

"The prize is what we need to do this fall," Tomlin said. "He needs to prepare himself to do that and he's doing it."

Of course, that was before Polamalu suffered a hamstring injury while working out a week before training camp began.

Polamalu went through the Steelers' conditioning test on reporting day at Saint Vincent College, but he never took the field with the defense the entire three weeks the Steelers were at camp.

His teammates were OK with that, though. They'd much rather have a healthy Polamalu when the regular season begins Sunday because they know what he means to the defense.

"He's pretty much the catalyst of what we do," said free safety Ryan Clark. "The reason we're able to do the things we do so well is his ability to disguise and be athletic enough to get where he has to be. From a psyche standpoint and preparation standpoint for offenses, he's a guy you have to prepare for. There are probably only a few guys in the league on defense you have to scheme for, and I think Troy's one of those guys, and that helps us a lot."

Polamalu returned to practice two weeks ago, working with the Steelers' scout defense - much to the chagrin of the offense. The scout defense gives the first-team offense a look at what it will face from opponents.

Of course, most scout teams don't include an All-Pro safety.

Some established players may have had a problem with working on the third- and fourth-team defense, but for Polamalu it was important.

"(Scout) team is good for a lot of things. It helps you get your confidence and rhythm back," he said. "You have to play within the scheme. Coach (Bill) Cowher let me do that my rookie year. Coach Tomlin realized how important it was just like Coach Cowher did."

With one quarter of preseason action in the finale against Carolina, Polamalu feels he's ready to get back to his playmaking ways when the Steelers open the regular season against Houston.

"I shook (the rust) off pretty fast," he said. "I feel ready to go."

If he didn't, you'd better believe he'd be the first to tell you.