Hines Ward predicts big year for Polamalu

<b>LATROBE – </b>Troy Polamalu doesn't fit the stereotype of the crazed strong safety, at least off the field. <br><br> Off the field, Polamalu probably fits in better with the monks at St. Vincent College than he does with the Pittsburgh Steelers. There's a peace about him, a calm demeanor and grace. Hines Ward knows the type. <br><br> "Those are the guys that I'm scared about more than anything," said Ward, who got a taste of the new Troy Polamalu at last Saturday's fan-packed practice.

Ward went up for a pass over the middle but Polamalu closed quickly and tomahawked both of Ward's hands to break up the play.

"It was a perfect play," Ward said. "Tommy put it right on my hands and at the same time his hands came in there and batted it down. He's making himself known for that. When you get close to Troy, make sure you catch the ball and cover it up."

There was something else about the play Ward appreciated.

"He covers so much ground. On the play he broke up, it was a cover-two formation and I was coming across and he ended up breaking it up from a cover two.

"With his speed and intelligence, his work ethic, the way he stays on the field, looks at the combination of routes, it's going to make him that much better when he goes out on the field.

"He's confident; he's eager to learn; he's always asking questions. Sometimes he's lined up over the slot and he'll ask if I see him doing anything wrong. For a kid to ask a wide receiver to help him get better, it's only going to do nothing but help him in the long run.

"It's hard because I'm trying to tell him everything, but hell when he goes up against me he kind of knows what I do. But he's getting better. I really think he's always going to be around the football, and when you're around the football you cause turnovers. I'm really looking for him to have a big year this year."

Polamalu is sensing the same, but wouldn't continue without first addressing Ward's remarks about the tomahawk chop.

"It is a huge compliment for Hines to admit something like that," Polamalu said. "I think it was the only time I've ever got the best of Hines. The other 99 times he ends up with the ball and is laughing at me."

It's a gross exaggeration to be sure, particularly this year. Perhaps last year Polamalu heard the snickers, but he's playing with such confidence in this camp that he's actually backing away from delivering blows over the middle.

On Tuesday, Polamalu backed away from belting Chris Doering, but Doering was still intimidated into short-arming the pass and dropping the ball.

"I think he's kind of pulled off and made some good decisions because it's our guys we are practicing against," said Coach Bill Cowher. "He has been very solid and you can tell how comfortable he is. He covers a lot of ground for a man. He is going to be a productive player for us this year."

Polamalu, of course, reacts with the humility of a Benedictine monk.

"It's only speculation after you pull off," he said. "They have done the same for me when I come up and they're cracking on me, the receivers, so it goes both ways in practice."

Nothing seemed to go the right way for Polamalu last year. There were the confounding and complex defensive schemes he couldn't seem to grasp; there was the blocked punt the punt-team fullback allowed in Seattle; there was the missed interception that directly led to a touchdown against St. Louis. And Polamalu was painfully honest in appraising his play last year.

His painful and truthful self-analysis this year?

"Well, I feel great out there," he said. "We haven't had the opportunity to really play. I try to make practice as close to game speed as possible. Once we put the uniforms on, whether it be this Saturday or against the Oakland Raiders, we'll have a chance to really see how comfortable I am."

Is he excited about laying the lumber?

"I'm excited just to see our defense work as a unit for the first time under coach (Dick) LeBeau," he said. "It feels like we're doing great, but I'm still young in this league and in this defense and organization. I don't think my word can go very far, but I feel very comfortable.

And about that inner peace, how does he balance it with the chaos inherent in his day job? "I think football's the same way," he said. "I don't think it's so rah-rah-rah or barbaric. I think it's a beautiful sport and it's the only true team sport. That's something that I love about football.

"As far as going out there and ‘laying the lumber' as you called it, I don't see that as a lot of ferocious behavior or anything like that. I just think that's all part of the beauty of football. It's very spiritual to me to showcase the talents that God has given me as well."

Steel City Insider Top Stories