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Harris: Polamalu gaining confidence in knee

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Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010

He returns for his eighth NFL season, more cautiously than full of fire and brimstone. That's because Steelers safety Troy Polamalu still doesn't know what to expect from his balky left knee, although following the first two preseason games it's been so far, so good.

The worst thing that a football player can do is think too much. Football is all about instinct. Deep thinking is for college philosophy professors only.

Polamalu will be the first to tell you he has been thinking about missing 11 games last season because of a torn knee ligament, not having surgery and wondering and worrying if he can make it through 2010 intact.

"Maybe a little too much thinking," Polamalu said.

Polamalu's concerns have merit. New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush suffered the same injury and had microfracture surgery performed on his left knee after he was placed on injured reserve in December 2008. Bush's injury was initially reported as a sprained medical collateral ligament, which doesn't usually require surgery.

"In the back of your mind you always have those concerns," Polamalu said late Saturday night following the Steelers' preseason win over the New York Giants. "It wasn't in my consciousness at all as I was playing. That's a positive thing.

"I did feel better. I take some comfort in getting out there and moving the knee in different directions."

Polamalu played the preseason opener against Detroit on Heinz Field's grass surface. The second game was played on Field Turf at New Meadowlands Stadium.

"That was a nice hurdle to get over," Polamalu said of testing his knee on two different playing surfaces.

It's been clearing one hurdle at a time for Polamalu. One foot in front of the other. Little steps becoming big steps.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, recently inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a cornerback, said Polamalu's concerns are legitimate and understandable.

All players, LeBeau said, experience feelings of anxiety following a serious injury, no matter how famous and accomplished they are.

"I think that's natural," LeBeau said. "It's going to happen. Generally speaking, (after) a game or two, you don't even think about it anymore."

Three months ago, when I spoke with Polamalu at the Steelers mandatory minicamp, he used phrases like "career-ending" and said "I don't know what happens when we start tackling" when asked about the ramifications of injuring the same knee twice in 2009.

Polamalu was tackling, or at least giving it the old college try, against the Giants. He was back to flying around the ball and officially credited with four tackles, but is the first to admit he missed at least that many tackles and isn't close to being in top form.

"My knee felt good, but my focus isn't there right now," Polamalu said. "No question. We've got to work on our tackling."

When does he think he'll get back to playing more like the Polamalu of old?

"Hopefully with these next (two) preseason games, I can get everything working together," he said. "I've just got to get reps. I missed quite a bit of time last year.

"I wasn't seeing things very well (Saturday). Nothing was instinctive for me. That just comes with time, and that's what these preseason games are good for."

After what Polamalu's knee has been through, just being back on the field is good enough for him right now.

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