Injuries continue to plague Polamalu

The Steelers had hoped rookie first-round pick Troy Polamalu could take advantage of an injury to Mike Logan to learn the basics of NFL strong safety play during the current spring coaching sessions. <br><br> Instead, Polamalu is battling a left hamstring problem that's kept him off the field the past week.

Polamalu has missed the last four spring practices with the injury and is taking up the same deep, deep safety spot in practice that Rod Woodson popularized during his final, injury-plagued seasons with the team.

"Troy's still here getting the mental reps and watching," said defensive coordinator Tim Lewis. "Yes, it's a setback for him in some regards, but I'll tell you one thing: He's smart, real smart. You ask him the questions, he knows the answers – on paper. We'll see how he does on the field when he gets back out there."

During rookie camp and the first two weeks of coaching sessions, Polamalu showed plenty. He'd filled in for Logan as the first-team strong safety and "done nothing that would make me think what he did on his college tape was a fluke," Lewis said two weeks ago. "He's very talented and you can see it. It shows through. Every day you see him do something that makes you go ‘Wow'."

But Polamalu aggravated a hamstring injury that originally occurred during two-a-days last August at USC. The injury persisted into the season but Polamalu was able to play through it.

"Then I injured my ankle and, from overcompensating, I made my hamstring worse," he said.

Prior to USC's Orange Bowl game against Iowa, Polamalu took an injection for the hamstring but it struck a nerve and his leg -- much like Jerome Bettis' leg in the 2001 playoffs -- became too numb to play.

"I didn't need to really take it. I could've played without it, but it was my last game and I figured ‘Why not?'" Polamalu said.

A month after the game, Polamalu said he felt completely healthy, but the hamstring was aggravated during a recent practice with the Steelers. Polamalu isn't worried about it becoming a chronic problem.

"I'm not nervous at all. It's going to be fine," he said. "Frustrated is a better word. I'm frustrated about missing reps, but I don't think it's going to set me back at all. You kind of lose everything when you leave anyway, and I got a good two weeks in. I'm still back there taking the best [mental] reps that I can when I'm not in."

Polamalu says he won't compound the problem by missing any time at training camp due to contract negotiations.

"I'm not that type of person," he said. "I don't think I would ever hold out, if they're giving me a fair deal."

Polamalu's agent, Marvin Demhoff, has a reputation for being a tough negotiator.

"Yes, but I talked to [Steelers chief negotiator] Omar Khan. He told me my agent's one of the best to work with. They're getting squared away with everything. We're going to be fine."

In the meantime, last year's third-round pick, Chris Hope, is playing strong safety, the position for which he was being groomed before the Steelers drafted Polamalu.

Hope worked at strong safety last year and played free safety in a couple of emergencies. This spring he was switched to free safety behind starter Brent Alexander and is now doubling his repetitions as the replacement at strong safety.

"I'm just trying to get better," Hope said. "That's all I can do. Whatever position they give me, I'm just trying to make the team better."

At rookie camp, Hope told reporters he'd taken the drafting of Polamalu in the first round "as a slap in the face." Yesterday, Hope's rhetoric had calmed significantly.

"I'm a team player. What's best for the team is best for the team," he said. "Hopefully I'm a starter, but more importantly I just want to have a better season than my rookie season, get some interceptions, make some big plays, some good hits. This year I'm looking definitely to be more consistent."

"It's never good when someone gets hurt," said Lewis. "But this is allowing us to develop some depth at the position. Mike Logan knows the position and knows it pretty well. Chris is getting opportunities now at both free and strong. And of course Troy is here."

Jim Wexell

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