"I felt fine for the little sprinting that I have done in practice," said Polamalu. "But game tempo, momentum, or game tempo/game speed, is really the only way to tell."
Polamalu, of course, strained his Achilles' tendon while returning an interception for a touchdown in Game 13 last season against the Cincinnati Bengals. He sat out the next two weeks, intercepted a pass in the regular-season finale against Cleveland, and played in the playoffs. But he wasn't the Polamalu of old. Throughout the first 13 games last season, Polamalu averaged 5 tackles per game, defensed 10 passes, and made enough big plays to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award. But in the three playoff games, counting the Super Bowl loss to the Green Bay Packers, Polamalu made only 10 tackles, and did not record a sack, turnover or a pass-defensed.
Polamalu missed a few practices early this camp and coach Mike Tomlin sat him out of the preseason opener. But Polamalu has practiced all week and will play an estimated 20-25 snaps with the rest of the starters Thursday.
AND HARRISON, TOO
James Harrison will also make his preseason debut Thursday night. He's making progress from a lower back injury that reportedly cost him more than 200 pounds at the squat rack.
"It's coming up a little bit," Harrison of his weightlifting. "The recovery of it, totally, is anywhere between 12 to 18 months. I'll be six months out at the end of this month, so I'm ahead of the curve."
He's ahead of the normal recovery curve, but not back to his normal strength. Harrison estimates he's 80 percent recovered.
"I'll be fine," he said. "I'm not as strong as last year, of course, but I'm also not feeling the pains I was feeling playing throughout most of last year."
Since the squat exercise parallels the leverage and power Harrison uses to rush the passer, the loss of so much strength is naturally worrisome to Steelers fans.
"The explosion hasn't come back yet," he said. "I may have it for a period or two at the beginning (of practice), but it wears down. Your muscles fatigue a lot faster. It'll just take time. But I'm looking forward to playing. I wanted to play last week but it wasn't my decision."
Tomlin has ruled out the following for Thursday night: WR Emmanuel Sanders, CBs Cortez Allen, Crezdon Butler, Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor, OG Chris Kemoeatu, and ILB Mario Harvey. None of the injuries are considered serious.
The Steelers will start Doug Legursky at left guard and Tony Hills at right guard. Hills showed impressive pulling ability at Thursday's practice, while Legursky is keeping the seat at left guard warm for Kemoeatu.
Rookie running back John Clay left the practice field Monday and returned later after a trainer was sent for him. It appeared that Clay had stormed off. But Clay did not quit the team. He was just following instructions from his position coach.
"Kirby [Wilson] told him to get off the field," said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. "(Clay) thought he meant get OFF the field, but Kirby meant to get off and go to the sideline. So he walked up and they sent someone to go get him."