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Steelers hold high hopes for pass defense

| Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 10:20 p.m.

Troy Polamalu said the Steelers' pass defense will figure prominently in helping the team snap its two-year playoff drought.

The Steelers had the top-ranked pass defense in 2011 and '12. But they slipped to ninth last season, in part, because the middle of the secondary often was exploited by prolific passing games such as those in New England and Detroit — games in which they surrendered a combined 82 points and 757 passing yards.

Even with the loss of Ryan Clark and an injury to free safety Mike Mitchell, Polamalu said he feels good about the Steelers' depth at safety.

So far, Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden and veteran Will Allen have been solid during training camp at St. Vincent.

“We've had a lot of depth here, but with the departure of Ryan and with me getting up there (in age), it's those guys' opportunity to take advantage of the playbook and the time they have out there,” said Polamalu, 33. “They have to give the coaches confidence, and I have definitely confidence in guys like Robert, Shamarko and Will. But it's important they have the confidence in themselves.”

On Wednesday, Thomas played most of the snaps with the first-team defense at free safety. And Golden continues to progress at both safety positions.

Polamalu, in his 12th season, said he has high expectations for the secondary, in part, because of the depth and experience at safety.

“They all have to prepare to be a starting safety, especially with Mike going out,” Polamalu said. “Suddenly, that depth doesn't look as good as it did before. But those guys are working really hard to improve their game.

“Obviously, Shamarko is going to take more time because he's younger. I was just explaining to him that this year he'll get the playbook down, then his third year he'll feel as if he can play the position and by the fourth year he'll have the game down.”

Thomas, a second-year safety, is playing with confidence. He's been as good against the run as he has in defending the pass.

“We are athletic at the safety position, and everyone knows the playbook,” Thomas said. “We can rotate everyone at every position. We're playing free and strong safety in practice, which stirs up the competition.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com.

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