Thursday, October 30, 2003
Steelers still waiting to see the big-play Polamalu they drafted
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers were so convinced
strong safety Troy Polamalu would upgrade their deficient defense,
they traded up in the first round for the first time in their
history to draft him.
Nearly halfway through his first NFL season, Polamalu's impact
has been minimal. He doesn't have an interception or a forced
fumble, and the big hits he so often delivered at Southern Cal
haven't been visible even in practice.
Polamalu, a backup strong safety, hears the rumblings that he
isn't the physical player the Steelers expected him to be: strong
enough to take on big running backs, yet fast enough to play
man-to-man coverage against top receivers.
He says it has been difficult learning the Steelers' vast
playbook, one that defensive coordinator Tim Lewis says is three
times bigger than that at most colleges.
He also won't predict when it will come together for him, only
that, "There's still a long ways for me to go."
"It's hard coming in and learning a defense guys have been
playing for eight to 10 years," said Polamalu, who plays mostly in
the nickel and dime defenses and on special teams. "To have
somebody step in and expect to get everything right away, it's
pretty tough, especially at the safety position where you've got to
learn everybody's job ... and play it at a faster pace."
Mike Logan, the starting strong safety who was supposed to be
beaten out by Polamalu, said the rookie is being too hard on
himself and is making discernible process. Lewis agrees.
The only problem, they say, is Polamalu plays a position where
fans notice only big plays (interceptions) or big mistakes (being
beaten badly in pass coverage), not the vast majority of things a
defensive back does right.
"When you first get into the NFL, you're really eager to go out
and make plays and show you fit in," Logan said. "There was so
much pressure on him to come in and fix all the problems in our
secondary, upgrade the speed, be a sure tackler. He was a No. 1
pick and we traded some picks to get him. We gave him a lot of
money upfront. You compound all those things on a young guy, of
course you're going to come in and be unstable at the beginning."
So far, Polamalu's two most visible moments were plays he'd
He let Marc Bulger's pass slip through his fingers Sunday and
directly into the hands of Rams receiver Dane Looker for a 22-yard
reception, setting up Arlen Harris' touchdown run in St. Louis'
33-21 victory. A month earlier, he drew a face mask penalty to keep
a Tennessee touchdown drive going in the Titans' 30-13 victory.
"I know I need to improve," Polamalu said. "We're 2-5 and I
really haven't helped this team up to this point, but it's a long
season and we've got a long way to go."
Lewis suggests much of the pressure on Polamalu will be relieved
as soon he makes a positive play that substantially helps the
"He needs to make a play for his own confidence," Lewis said.
"He needs to do that just to feel good about himself. He really
couldn't have put himself in any better position on the (Looker
catch) at the 1-yard line. When you watch him work out, when you
watch him practice and catch balls, he's as natural and fluid as
Polamalu laughs at suggestions he should go out and play
naturally and instinctively, rather than being obsessed with
putting himself in perfect position on every down.
"Well, you can't just go out there and play on instincts," he
said. "You've got to know where to line up and what your keys are.
As soon as you learn that, then you can be instinctive. I feel I'm
getting there, but I'm definitely not at that point."