Notebook: Return of Troy

Troy Polamalu practiced, but not all is positive. He's just hoping to be at full strength for the opener. Also, notes on the starting center, third quarterback, state of the Steelers.

PITTSBURGH – Troy Polamalu returned to the practice field for the first time since minicamp in early May.

The Steelers' star strong safety tested an injured hamstring that kept him on the PUP list throughout training camp. He admitted that it felt a bit tight, so he's not certain whether he'll play in the Steelers' third preseason game Saturday night in Minnesota.

"I want to play against Houston," Polamalu said of the Sept. 7 opener. "I want to be smart on this hamstring and not injure it worse. But I also want to be physically prepared to play and I'd like to get some reps. I'd love to play against Minnesota. What better running backs to prepare for the season?"

The Vikings have last season's best running back duo in Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, who combined for 2,185 rushing yards last season.

Polamalu practiced only with the scout team on Tuesday, but his sidekick at free safety, Ryan Clark, talked about what Polamalu means to the defense.

"It's almost like having LaDainian Tomlinson on defense," Clark said. "Offenses have to know where he is every play. A lot of what we do is predicated off him, but, kind of like when you have a Randy Moss or a T.O. type guy, sometimes the best job they do is when they're doing nothing. Just because the offense is paying attention to Troy, you might have to single up a James Harrison or a Brett Keisel. That's what he brings to the whole defense, a total concentration on him, which allows everybody else to be that much better."

CENTER POSITION?

The worst-kept secret with the Steelers is that Justin Hartwig will be the starting center opening day. But Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said he won't name the starter until "hopefully" next week. Tomlin explained why Hartwig's getting the start this week.

"We're giving him another opportunity to get some group cohesion with those guys," Tomlin said. "It's easier for Sean (Mahan) because they have 17-20 games, preseason included, dating back to last year of getting an understanding between he and Kendall (Simmons) and so forth. We feel that Hartwig, in order to get a fair evaluation, needs that time."

THIRD QUARTERBACK

It's also become obvious that the Steelers will keep rookie Dennis Dixon on the roster as the third quarterback this year. Tomlin was asked if the spread offense Dixon ran in college is viable on the pro level.

"In some form or fashion it is," Tomlin said. "Professional football is professional football and there are subtle differences between that and the college game. Some of the things you can do in college football are because of the hashes. You can put people on an island that you can't put people on in the National Football League. The ball's always in the middle of the field. Not only that, but there are very few athletic mismatches on the NFL field like you can get on the college field at times."

So, the answer is a solid maybe.

QUOTABLE

Tomlin on whether he's pleased with the state of the team following training camp:

"I am. By no means are we a finished product, but I like some of the things we're doing. It looks like we're in the second year of a system and we're taking the giant strides that we need to take. Ultimately we'll be measured by how we perform inside stadiums, we understand that, but I like where we are at this point."


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