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Polamalu hopes Steelers learn lessons during non-playoff season

| Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, 11:40 p.m.
The Steelers' Troy Polamalu sacks Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton during the third quarter Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, at Heinz Field. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Maybe, Troy Polamalu said, the Steelers need a little humbling.

They've gotten accustomed to winning, and winning big, to being an elite team, to landing a half-dozen players in the Pro Bowl.

It didn't happen this season, the worst of Polamalu's 10 in the NFL, one that merged the Steelers' poor on-field performance with a serious injury that sidelined him for more than two months.

It was the quintessential lost season for a seven-time Pro Bowl safety who will be 32 in April and can't afford to have too many such seasons.

“I hope this is a humbling process for a lot of guys here,” Polamalu said Thursday, referring to the Steelers' 7-8 record. “Hopefully it will make us a better team in the future.”

Perhaps, Polamalu hinted, it will push younger players to realize that winning isn't a guarantee, that it requires hard work, dedication, attention to details, that it means paying some dues, paying respect. It also might be instructive for older players to remind themselves they're partly responsible for the growth and development of those younger players.

“It's amazing to me how much little things really matter, the personnel and the personality of the team, how much all that matters in camp and what you put in in the offseason,” Polamalu said, adding, “(It's) how you treat your teammates in the offseason, how you prepare them.”

The Steelers long had role models such as defensive end Aaron Smith who didn't always lead by screaming but by example. Perhaps, Polamalu said, the Steelers are in a transition period between such leaders.

“James Farrior was a great leader here for a long time. So was Hines (Ward), Jerome (Bettis); so was Joey (Porter),” he said. “James was not Joey, and Hines was not Jerome, but they definitely led in their own ways. So I think when you look for a leader, there's no need to look for the same cast those guys are built out of. You just look for someone who will step up that someone respects, and some of that is really natural.”

When a season such as this one plays out, Polamalu begins believing again that leadership matters.

“When I look at the personnel that you lose, and I say, ‘Can we actually win a Super Bowl without them? Could we win a Super Bowl without Hines? Could we win a Super Bowl without James Farrior?' I think it's obvious that we can,” he said. “But it took us a while to adjust when we lost Jerome. So I think this is kind of that adjustment period.”

Polamalu, who missed nine full games and most of another with a calf injury, regrets that the Steelers didn't make the playoffs because he never would have been healthier for them.

“That's what's hard for me, looking in retrospect now — I haven't been healthy all year,” Polamalu said. “What's nice about it is I'll go into the offseason on the rise and continue to get better, get in better shape and be more prepared for next year.”

As fellow safety Ryan Clark said, having Polamalu playing as he did Sunday against Cincinnati — he finally flashed his speed, recklessness and playmaking skills — would make the Steelers substantially better in 2013.

“That's exciting because, first of all, it gets people off his back about if he is quick enough, can he still do it, can he still make plays,” Clark said. “But it also gives him the confidence going into the offseason that if he gets right and gets himself in condition to be healthy, he is the best strong safety in football. We all know that, and he knows it. But you have to be out there to do it.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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