Polamalu Gets Promise From Coach Cowher

<b>LATROBE --</b> Troy Polamalu missed the last two weeks of spring coaching sessions and the first three days of training camp, so it came as something of a surprise when Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Bill Cowher promised the first-round pick playing time before the ink had dried on his freshly signed contract.

"Oh yes, he'll be playing," Cowher said with a maniacal look in his eyes. "While he's here we're going to use every part of his body that we can get, so he'll be doing all the [special] teams."

Polamalu will be here at least the next five years, provided the strong safety from the University of Southern California is as good as advertised. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound tackling machine signed a four-year deal yesterday with a one-year club option that would kick the bonus to a reported $5.26 million. The remaining terms of the deal were not released.

"I was expecting to come last Sunday you know," Polamalu said after Monday's afternoon practice. "My bags have been packed for a couple of weeks and my stomach has been twisted. I haven't been able to eat a good meal or anything because I have been anxious to get out here. It's finally nice to get that feeling over with."

Polamalu admitted he'd "play this game for free" but deferred the business side of the NFL to his agent, Marvin Demhoff. The next step for Polamalu is to wrest the job from veteran Mike Logan, who's coming off knee surgery in his third year with the Steelers. Logan was a backup last season to the since-departed Lee Flowers.

"I'm glad he's here," Logan said of Polamalu. "Anytime you have a rookie, he needs to come in and get into camp and get things working because we throw a lot at you real quick. He's already missed the basic installation and I think he needs to get the repetitions because he was out of minicamp as well."

Polamalu missed two weeks last spring because of a hamstring injury that had lingered since the beginning of his senior season. Yesterday, Polamalu said his hamstrings haven't bothered him "at all, but I have been paying extra attention and taking extra care of them."

Even if he's healthy, Polamalu might find it difficult to crack the starting lineup. Because of the defensive complexities, rookies simply can't start for the Steelers.

"They can't?" asked an incredulous Darren Perry. "I had the experience of doing it first hand. There is some truth to that, but at the same time, given the right circumstances, it can happen."

Perry, the first-year safeties coach with the Steelers, started at free safety as a rookie in Cowher's first season as coach. Perry took advantage of a new scheme that everyone else had to learn, holdouts by Thomas Everett and Carnell Lake, and an injury to Gary Jones to start every game that season.

"The good thing for Troy is that we have a guy in Brent Alexander who knows the defense pretty doggone well," Perry said of the current free safety. "Usually, if you've got one back there who knows it pretty well, he can kind of help the other one along until he gets to the point where he's really comfortable with it. But we won't need Troy to make all the calls back there as we would our free safety, as opposed to when I came in as a rookie. Brent, being our free safety, will be our primary signal-caller. At the same time, Troy still has a lot to learn. He can't rely on Brent to get him lined up."

Polamalu left Los Angelas on Sunday at 11 p.m. and arrived in Pittsburgh on Monday at 7 a.m. He didn't get any sleep on the plane and practiced that afternoon.

"They stuck me between the biggest people on the plane," said Polamalu, a humble Polynesian from a large family.

"I could do without the business part of it. I just love to play the sport," he said. "But I do think that money can put you in a position to help people out. Not that only money can do that, but it helps a little bit. And I've got a lot of family and a lot of friends and a lot of people to take care of. And by the grace of God, football has put me in that position."

Jim Wexell

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