Polamalu certainly wasn't going to say that Smith was washed up, or playing poorly, or any of the other perceptions traversing talk radio shows these days. But Polamalu did answer the question as truthfully as he could.
"What's our record? Two and one?" Polamalu asked. "So, we all look 2-1 right now."
Polamalu in particular looks 2-1 after playing poorly in the opener and then becoming "very, very impactful in our defense the last two weeks," according to Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. LeBeau believes that Polamalu – as well as James Harrison, for that matter – has picked up his play because of improved timing.
"I think it's more of a situation of getting our defense timed up and getting our guys where they've got to be when they've got to be there," said LeBeau.
LeBeau doesn't believe Polamalu's injured Achilles' tendon hurt him in the playoffs and/or Super Bowl last season, and LeBeau certainly doesn't believe the injury bothered Polamalu in the opener when he was beaten for a touchdown by Ed Dickson and generally assailed as overrated and over-the-hill.
LeBeau's position is shared by Polamalu's teammates. When asked if last Sunday night's game in Indianapolis stamped Polamalu as "back for good," cornerback Ike Taylor said, "He ain't never left."
"The only people who said he wasn't (playing well) was the media," said free safety Ryan Clark. "When you're as good as Troy is, they expect that every game you're going to make a game-changing play, and that's just not the reality of the sport we play. It's not the reality of what we do. And so he has a little more ridicule and high expectations than other people. If he's not winning games with defensive plays, people think he's not the Troy of old, or people think he's getting old, or still hurt. But it's not the case. Some games it just doesn't happen for you."
Things started happening for Polamalu in the Week 2 win over Seattle when he made a team-high nine tackles, including a sack. He also jumped a pass route a step too soon or he would've intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown.
Polamalu followed the Seahawks game with an even better performance against the Colts. The highlight was his fumble return for a touchdown, but he made several other plays that, as LeBeau would say, were very, very impactful.
"The one he missed was my favorite play," Clark said of Polamalu's attempt to swat away a handoff between quarterback and running back that resulted in a Colts touchdown.
"I would've just tackled the runner," Clark said. "But to be such a playmaker, have such confidence in your abilities, that you feel you can actually reach out and grab the ball, that's why it was a great play. That's why it was awesome, because it's so Troy."
Polamalu was "so Troy" against the Houston Texans early in the 2005 season. He had been put in a new pass-downs position that season, a hybrid linebacker/cornerback position that would've made his current position coach Carnell Lake proud. In fact, in that game Polamalu tied Lake's NFL record for defensive backs by sacking quarterback David Carr three times. Polamalu's had only three sacks since that game.
"Well, I don't blitz as much anymore, at least when I'm supposed to," he said. "I don't play that position anymore. That day I just wanted to mess with the linemen a little bit."
Polamalu did blitz quite a bit against Indianapolis, and he had that sack against Seattle. Might we expect some blitzing Sunday against the Texans during his record-tying anniversary game?
"I'm just happy that anybody gets sacks on our team," he said. "The reason why I say that though, and I'm not trying to be humble, but the truth is we have so much of an impact already, whether it's disguising, whether it's jumping routes, creating some sort of hesitation. The way that our defense plays is that we all have an impact on the outcome of the play, whether it's a sack or it's a turnover. So that's an awesome thing. It's never a one-man effort."
Even when that one man is merely a 2-1 player, just like the rest of his teammates.
NOTES – Missing Thursday's practice were WR Arnaz Battle (knee), DE Brett Keisel (knee), G Doug Legursky (shoulder), NT Steve McLendon (illness), OT Jonathan Scott (ankle). OLB Chris Carter was limited with his continuing hamstring injury.