Early in the process but the names are buzzing

These are the fragments, or abridged versions, of the stories making up the early February football scene in Pittsburgh: <br><br>If I were a smart corporate schmuck, I'd take, say, five of these notes and blow 'em up into features that contain the same information. It would carry me through the next three weeks of what promises to be a cold, dry season in terms of information. But alas, I am not.

:: A corporate schmuck that is. Say I'm not smart, but never say I'm a corporate schmuck.

:: On that note, let me tell you how sad it is to see some of your friends in this business sell their souls to the company store. Every time I turn around, another one goes down. Once, we were all hot-shot, free-thinking sportswriters, but that was so very long ago.

:: Look at rock 'n roll. Seriously. What used to be a rallying call to battle authority is now the authority. Rock 'n roll, in the hands of 40-year-olds who grew up idolizing REO Speedwagon and Styx, has now been rendered useless. It's everywhere, and it's useless.

:: One more aside, please, because the music being played at Heinz Field is truly nauseating. It probably even bugs the boss. A few years ago, Dan Rooney flew one of his clerks to Kansas City to study the music being played at Arrowhead Stadium. It elevated my respect for the man because that place just cooks with the hard-driving, rip-roaring blues that have been hidden under rocks since about 1973. But the music was lost on the clerk and fans at Heinz Field are paying the price.

:: It should be called Corporate Schmuck Stadium. They all should.

:: OK, here's the good stuff. It's very early in the process but the name buzzing around the organization right now is Troy Polamalu, a safety from USC. That comes as no surprise to those who've longed for the days of Carnell Lake. Back then, no one had to guess whether a run or pass was coming. Lake, the eighth man in the box, could handle either without help from the coaches. And guess what? Polamalu is a converted Pac-10 linebacker. His hair is a lot longer than Lake's ever was but there obviously are plenty of similarities to the former UCLA linebacker.

:: My only chance to watch Polamalu closely was thwarted by his late-season hamstring problem. I saw his sculpted physique as he limped off the field and am concerned that pulled muscles will be a part of the package.

:: Defensive coordinator Tim Lewis told me a long time ago that strong safeties, buck linebackers and nose tackles have a very short shelf life due to all of the hits those players not only administer but also take. Joel Steed only had a few good years. So did Levon Kirkland and Earl Holmes, who are now being spared as 4-3 middle backers. Lake's career, Lewis believes, was extended because of the time he spent at cornerback. Too bad Lee Flowers wasn't so lucky.

:: Flowers, of course, is finished in Pittsburgh, but it has nothing to do with his oft-volatile commentary and everything to do with his lack of speed and cover skills. His back-up last year, then-rookie Chris Hope, "has a chance," according to a coach who likes his speed and strength. But the Steelers wouldn't let Hope stand in the way of drafting a preferred strong safety.

:: There is a problem with drafting a safety first. By the time he learns the Steelers' defense well enough to become a factor, the championship window could be shut. Expect the Steelers to wade into the free-agent waters in an attempt to sign a safety before taking a serious look at Polamalu.

:: As we speak, tapes of safeties Donovin Darius, Tebucky Jones and Dexter Jackson are whirring on the South Side. The latter, of course, was the Super Bowl MVP, but should be ruled out as another Larry Brown -- an average defensive back who struck gold after lucking into a Super Bowl MVP trophy.

:: Jackson, Tampa Bay's version of Brown, benefited greatly from coach Jon Gruden and strong safety John Lynch. Gruden drilled the Bucs on the Raiders' offense and Lynch read the key play of the game early in the second quarter. A mic'd Lynch told Jackson, "Dexter, don't let him fool you with his pumps on this one!" Quarterback Rich Gannon proceeded to pump left before throwing right, where Jackson intercepted the pass that led to a 13-3 lead. It was a situation in which intelligence made a free safety appear faster than he is.

:: Remember when the Steelers brought in former Jacksonville safety Travis Davis? Remember them telling us Davis would pick up the defense easily because the Jaguars' safeties have similar responsibilities? Keep it in mind as Darius makes his rounds.

:: Darius, a player with shortcomings in coverage but a player to whom Hines Ward gives his Pro Bowl vote every year, recently fired his agent, reportedly because other agents said he should be asking for more money, like $4 million a year. That kind of thinking won't put Darius in black and gold, nor will it give him a great shot at starting in a Super Bowl.

:: It's the kind of thinking that makes Jones, the New England free-agent, all the more appealing. Jones can cover and is a real demon on special teams.

:: My argument that the Steelers need a legitimate pass-rusher was run past a coach, who disagreed. "We'll be fine there," he said, pointing out that last year's seventh-round pick, Brett Keisel, will fill that role in the near future.

:: The early word on former Robert Morris College and current Steelers quarterback Tim Levcik is "he's got a chance." Don't we all?

Jim Wexell

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