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Steelers veteran safety Polamalu graces OTAs

| Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 8:02 p.m.
The Steelers' Troy Polamalu told 'The Dan Patrick Show' on Wednesday that he has ignored the team's medical staff after sustaining head injuries in order to remain in a game. (Chaz Palla | Tribune Review)
The Steelers' Troy Polamalu during OTAs on the South Side on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
The Steelers' Troy Polamalu during OTAs on the South Side on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Larry Foote had to look twice to see if it was really Troy Polamalu out there for the start of Steelers' organized team activities Tuesday.

During Foote's nearly 10 years with the team, Polamalu has been rarely seen at any nonmandatory offseason workouts.

“Normally during OTAs he is out surfing in the ocean,” Foote said.

Instead, Polamalu was at his first nonmandatory offseason practice in years, and for good reason.

With the loss of a number of key veterans on defense, Mike Tomlin suggested to Polamalu that attending offseason practices might be a good idea this year.

Polamalu obliged.

“It's important for as many people as possible to be here because we acknowledge that we're building chemistry and, to a degree, you can't measure it, and it's a significant part of team building,” Tomlin said.

The last time Polamalu took part in OTAs was April 2010, when the Steelers held a short two-day session before the draft. Polamalu did not attend the final 12 sessions spanning May 18 to June 10.

Polamalu pointed toward the loss of James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke and their combined 36 years of experience as one reason he decided to forgo his typical offseason regimen in Southern California with workout guru Marv Marinovich.

“For obvious reasons, we had some major leadership leave, people who we can count on, and I think it is nice for the young guys to see a familiar face,” Polamalu said. “It is nice to be around the team and nice to get out and play some football. I am here to support all my teammates.”

It wasn't limited to the young guys. Veterans were also happy to see Polamalu on the field during this time of year.

“I was very surprised and excited to have him here,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “Troy just needs to be Troy.”

But that might not be good enough this year.

The Steelers desperately want Polamalu to take over more of a vocal leadership role on defense. However, Polamalu said don't expect that to happen.

“I really don't think anybody really steps into those types of roles and gets out of character that's within their own character,” Polamalu said. “Yeah, I am definitely not a vocal leader, if a leader at all.”

Foote disagrees.

“He's always been a vocal leader,” Foote said. “Especially since he's been here this long, everybody is a leader. He talks out there on the field. He is just not loud and you can't see him, but he's talking.”

And for the first time in a couple years, Polamalu is feeling good.

Aside from a couple of nagging day-to-day injuries last year that limited some practice time, Polamalu was healthy.

The 31-year-old played in all 16 regular-season games for only the second time since 2005. He finished the year with 91 tackles but wasn't happy with his overall performance.

“To be honest, every year I ever had was below my standards,” Polamalu said. “I have expectations from myself. I have a lot to improve on … from pass coverage-wise to tackling and run defense. You name it. You spend the entire offseason breaking yourself down and see where you can improve. There is a lot for me to improve.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mkaboly@tribweb.com.

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