Share This Page

In Polamalu, an All-Pro mentor

| Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Steelers strong saftey Troy Polamalu comes off the field during a timeout at O.co Coliseum on Sunday. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

Troy Polamalu, nursing a tender calf since the season opener, has spent the past two weeks auditioning as a coach. He's remained engaged, schooling backups Ryan Mundy and Will Allen.

The veteran All-Pro safety would rather strap on his helmet and make the momentum-shifting blows that seemingly always energize the Steelers' defense. Instead, he's been helping direct a secondary that sometimes has been up and down.

“If I'm not playing, I'll convey to the guys what I see and how we're being attacked,” Polamalu said. “I think it's different when you hear it from coaches than when you hear it from players.

“I feel like a coach sometimes. I'm talking to the guys every play and talking to the defense and hopefully (preparing) them for situations they can expect in the red zone, on third down or during two-minute drills.”

Yet Polamalu's biggest challenge against the Oakland Raiders last weekend wasn't trying to figure out a way to stop quarterback Carson Palmer on the game-winning drive. It was helping Mundy piece together his emotions after he delivered a hit that left receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey stretched out in the end zone with a strain neck and concussion.

“It was a tough play any time you see a guy seriously injured on the field, whether it's a teammate or an opponent,” said Mundy, who exchanged text messages with Heyward-Bey earlier this week. “This is our livelihood — our lifelong dream — so it was tough for me mentally and emotionally.”

For years, Polamalu has been the spark that ignites the Steelers. Now he's the calm, sage veteran tasked with boosting the confidence of a secondary that has had its weaknesses exposed by Palmer and Denver's Peyton Manning during the Steelers' disappointing 1-2 start.

So far, Mundy and Allen have been inconsistent with Polamalu and Ryan Clark out of the lineup. They have struggled to make plays in pass coverage and against the run, especially as Denver and Oakland switched to the no-huddle.

Polamalu, though, figures the secondary will pull it together before the Steelers host the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 6 at Heinz Field.

“It's hard to be a backup to such great players,” Mundy said. “When they go out of the game, the standards have been set high. Will and I have the ability to come in and play well, and we've done it.

“But it's not for us to go into the game and be Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. We just have to be ourselves, and the coaches will have confidence in us. A lot of people expect us to play at that level.”

Mundy and Allen may have had their problems, but Oakland's receivers insisted the Steelers safeties were victims of an increasingly predictable defense.

Polamalu's presence, however, usually keeps opposing quarterbacks guessing.

“Troy is like a coach. Even when he's playing he's like a coach,” Mundy said. “He has the ability to see things that most guys are unable to see, then diagnose plays and situations. Ryan and I look to him to ask what he sees and what he might anticipate.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.