* It's time for Troy Polamalu to take on a true leadership role.
* And then OTAs started and Polamalu took on a true leadership role.
* "It's my turn to be around the team a little more," Polamalu explained after Mike Tomlin had asked him to show up for this year's volunteer workouts.
* Looks like Tomlin scooped me. Again.
* Spring workouts are structured, but casual at the same time. Veterans tend to teach more effectively in the cozy setting. So here was a helmet-less Polamalu high-fiving the rest of the DB group at the start of one workout, and there was a smiling Polamalu introducing himself to an undrafted rookie in the cafeteria.
* On Thursday, Polamalu didn't practice, but he stood on the sideline with a piece of paper in his hand and talked football with rookies and veterans alike.
* Although I had written repeatedly that Gilbert is a natural right tackle and Colon a natural guard, I was initially against this decision because it appeared that Tomlin was making it too easy for a rookie to win the left tackle job.
* Left tackle's too important of a position to simply hand over to Mike Adams. But Tomlin's not handing anything over. If Adams beats out a rejuvenated Trai Essex and the overpaid Jon Scott, he'll have to beat out Max Starks, who's still hanging out at the practice facility in spite of his free-agent status.
* To beat out those veterans, Adams will need a preseason moment similar to Gilbert's, when Gilbert went up against Trent Cole and kept his quarterback clean.
* The day after some experts on ESPN predicted a third-place finish for the Steelers, I watched a first-place practice. And no doubt the prediction will help.
* This is Tomlin's team. Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke and James Farrior are gone. So is Bruce Arians. But I see speed out of the backfield, speed and size down the seams, lines that have been revamped with high draft picks, a rejuvenated James Harrison, a leaner and hungrier Lawrence Timmons, cornerbacks with size and coverage skills, and enough veterans who've won it all to, well, win it all again.
* I hate to get excited in May, but, damn, those third-place predictions have me excited.
* Brown made the best interception I've seen at practice in years. He shadowed Derrick Williams, used terrific body control to contort himself and tip the ball, and then he reached out and plucked it safely as he was falling to the ground.
* I realize Keenan Lewis is and most likely will be the replacement for William Gay, and that Cortez Allen is working as the first slot corner off the bench, but neither of those big and physical corners has the pure coverage skills Brown has.
* Clemons first impressed me with his deep speed. And at 6 feet 2 with that speed, he looks more like a first or second-round draft pick than a seventh-rounder. In other words, he has the pedigree that one would associate with someone recruited by Michigan.
* Don't know what caused Clemons to transfer to Colorado, but it wasn't bad hands or lack of toughness. Clemons caught several high passes over the middle in tight and physical coverage. After the last one on Thursday, Clark yelled from the sideline, "I'll tell you what number 11, you sure can catch the ball!"
* Clemons also received a shout-out from assistant Jerry Olsavsky during a special-teams drill: "Clarence Clemons, way to go!"
* The Steelers' receivers looked fast and threatening even without Mike Wallace on the field.
* Weslye Saunders is another talented player percolating in the pipeline. His most recent troubles could turn into a blessing if he lives up to his promise that "it's about to get ugly soon," in regard to his offseason training.
* D.J. Johnson rolled into the flat, caught a pass and turned up the field and ran past a couple of defensive backs on his way to the end zone. Tomlin erupted with praise, as did other assistant coaches.
* So they call Johnson a fullback now. Looks like he's doing the same things he did last year when he was a tight end.
* Just so you don't think Clark's only shouting compliments from the sideline, the Pro Bowl free safety yelled the following at Tomlin: "If your quarterback's going to hold the ball that long, you better draft more offensive linemen next year." To which Tomlin replied, "I'm going safety – free safety!"
* Baron Batch may not have Chris Rainey's darting quickness, but he's close. Batch also has great hands and runs precise routes. It'll be interesting to see what the Steelers do with the two very similar running backs.
* Casey Hampton has stepped up as a leader as well. He's been helping coach John Mitchell ride herd on the defensive linemen when in any other year the rehabbing nose tackle would've just stayed home.
* Chris Hoke is an unbelievably svelte 250 pounds. And he's working in the media. His beloved BYU hired two defensive line coaches last year and the team then won 10 games. Bad timing for coaching; good timing for the media.
* "There's so much less stress in my life," said Hoke, Hampton's former backup. "I sleep so much better knowing I don't have to play zero technique anymore."
* Troy Smith is battling for a quarterback job and the former Heisman Trophy winner is showing a strong arm. After No. 10 wound up and threw a somewhat startling deep pass, someone said, "Is that Kordell?"
* Jon Dwyer is supposedly working with famed trainer Tom Shaw and getting into the best shape of his life, but the third-year running back looks like his chunky old self to me.
* John Clay – perhaps because of the above – is receiving much more work from the coaches.
* New Pitt coach Paul Chryst, from the balcony overlooking the Panthers' and Steelers' practice fields: "Pretty nice backyard you people have here."
* Steve McLendon was either standing uphill from me or he really looks like a monster. He told me he's 327 pounds, but to say he's only 325 so his coach won't get mad.
* Guess I kind of busted you there, Steve, but the point is he's far from the laughable 280 pounds still listed on the team's roster.
* My boy Brown was all over undrafted rookie receiver Connor Dixon during one route. Just beat him up. When Juamorris Stewart – who curiously has been given a real number, 87 – outfought Brown for one short pass, quarterback Byron Leftwich and several offensive coaches shouted out kudos for Stewart.
* I don't know if it says as much about Stewart as it does the guy he beat for the ball.
* These and other mysteries will continue to unravel for the next three weeks.