Snapshot: Troy Polamalu

The Steelers gave first-round draft pick Troy Polamalu two pieces of equipment Thursday. One was his college number, 43. The other was a helmet designed to help prevent concussions.

The rookie strong safety has suffered three previous concussions and swears he won't change his style of play.

"Not at all," said Polamalu. "I go out there and sacrifice every piece of my body, and my head has come out on the bad end a few times, but it's never changed my style of play and never will because I love the sport."

The Steelers traded third and sixth round draft choices to move up 11 spots to draft the 5-foot-10 Polamalu, the first sub-5-11 safety taken in the first round since Leonard Smith in 1983. Polamalu considers himself a run-stopper first and admits he's probably too reckless with his body.

"I love the commitment that you make to your teammates and I don't think a lot of players will sit there and sacrifice as much as a head," he said. "I mean you can play without an arm, without a leg, but you can't play without your head, but I'm still willing to make the sacrifice.

"I've got to point out that it's not a problem and it's never been a problem."

He did seek out protective gear upon arriving in Pittsburgh on Thursday, and the Steelers fitted him with the two-year-old Revolution helmet made by Riddell. It was designed after results from an NFL-funded study indicated that football players are particularly susceptible to concussions from side-impact collisions.

The helmet is larger than normal NFL helmets but lighter with large ventilation holes on top. The facemask is rounded to deflect hits. The shape of the helmet sweeps back toward the ear and then juts along the jaw line.

"It's shaped like a race-car driver's helmet, lower around the jaws," said Steelers equipment manager Rodgers Freyvogel, who admitted the helmet isn't invincible.

"They thought they could eliminate concussions completely, but they can't," he said. "This one takes away the impact on the jaws."

Polamalu hopes to be delivering the blows next fall. He expressed excitement about playing for a defense as rich in tradition as the Steelers' defense, but admitted he didn't know much else about the organization.

"Growing up, I really haven't watched too much NFL football," he said. "I'd like to say it's the competitor inside of me. It's hard for me to watch football. When people are inside watching football I was more outside playing football. I haven't done much research on any programs, but football's football and I love the sport of football and I'm excited to be able to continue to play it."

Polamalu will be groomed to replace Lee Flowers as the Steelers' strong safety. On draft day, Coach Bill Cowher indicated that Mike Logan, a reserve safety last season, would be first in line to replace Flowers, who's a free agent. However, the Steelers didn't move up in the first round for the first time in team history to draft a reserve. They expect Polamalu to contribute immediately.

"I don't think the Steelers could put any more pressure on me than I could put on myself and my will to succeed," Polamalu said. "I'm excited. I don't expect to be treated any different than a free agent or a sixth or seventh round draft pick but I'm just going to come in here and give it the best shot that I have and hopefully improve the team."

As a three-year starter at the University of Southern California, Polamalu made 278 tackles with 29 stops behind the line as a safety playing close to the line of scrimmage. With the Steelers, he'll be expected to cover slot receivers and tight ends, an assignment that became difficult in recent years for Flowers.

"I'll be the first to admit I need a great deal of improvement in pass defense," Polamalu said. "But I need great improvement in my whole game. Like I said, that's the great asset that I have. Although I've had some success in college, I've got that much more room to improve."

The Steelers replaced college scouting director Bill Baker with Ron Hughes, who had been working with the team as a draft consultant the last two years. Steelers director of operations Kevin Colbert played for Hughes at Pittsburgh North Catholic and Hughes hired Colbert when he was with the Detroit Lions. Hughes spent 18 years with the Lions, the last four of which he spent as the vice president of player personnel.

Jim Wexell

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