By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Troy Polamalu often doesn’t show up for these things, yet he surprised many with an appearance Tuesday at the Steelers’ first spring practice, or organized team activity.
He pledged to do so for the remainder of them, right through the June 12-14 required minicamp. After all, he won’t have many more springs to take advantage of them.
At 31, Polamalu is now an elder on a defense that quickly turned younger when the Turk knocked on several veterans’ doors early this year. Over in Baltimore, a contemporary safety in Pro Bowls and winning NFL defensive player of the year awards, Ed Reed, said he’s “not 100 percent committed” to playing this year.
Polamalu says he is committed to playing, but he cannot say for how long. He said he thinks about the end “all the time.”
“People have asked me how many years do you think you can play? My reaction is always, when you live day to day, it’s hard to talk years. It’s always been my mantra in life, whether it was my first year as a rookie or year 10, I just live day to day.”
And this spring, he has decided to spend those days in Pittsburgh, practicing with his teammates. Most springs, he spends working out with his trainer, Todd Marinovich, in the Los Angeles area. Polamalu said he did not come because he was asked but because he wanted to this time “for obvious reasons.”
“We had a lot of our major leadership leave, people that we count on. I think it’s nice for the younger guys to see a familiar face, and, honestly, to get myself better.”
Asked about Polamalu attending, coach Mike Tomlin said: “It’s important for as many people as possible to be here, because we acknowledge that we’re building chemistry, and to a degree you can’t measure it, and it’s a significant part of team building.”
Those lost leaders include linebacker James Farrior, defensive end Aaron Smith and nose tackle Chris Hoke, as well as cornerback Bryant McFadden on defense. The offense lost Hines Ward and perhaps Max Starks, who remains an unrestricted free agent recovering from ACL surgery.
“You can’t say that it won’t affect the team,” Polamalu said of the leadership drain. “How we react to it, time will tell, but losing some major players on this team is going to be quite different.”
So Polamalu, who has made seven Pro Bowls, decided to do what he called “support his teammates” by turning out for his rare OTA appearance. He claims not to be a vocal leader and will not try to become something he is not. He said he needs to improve, too, because he has not reached his expectations in any of his previous nine seasons, including 2010 when he was the league’s defensive player of the year.
Some familiar faces are not the only things that have left. Polamalu could not help but notice the new offense being run by new coordinator Todd Haley.
“For sure. You practice so much against that system you just kind of know what you get out of certain formations, you get a feel for certain route concepts and stuff like that,” Polamalu said of the former offense. “It’s just another adjustment.
“It’ll make everybody better. It’ll make our whole defense better, we’ll get a chance to see a different style of offense. The route concepts are quite a bit different, but it’s just one practice.”
It’s one more than Polamalu usually attends this time of year.
As expected Mike Wallace, who has not signed his one-year restricted free agent tender, did not report. Unexpectedly, neither did cornerback Ike Taylor, who reportedly remained in Florida working out with his trainer, Tom Shaw.
Brett Keisel (groin), Rashard Mendenhall (ACL) and Casey Hampton (ACL) did not practice, nor did Ramon Foster and Jason Worilds, with no explanations given.
Tomlin said he was not disappointed that Wallace did not attend.
“Not at all. This is a business, and it’s an element of the business. Mike came in and we visited last week. We had good communication. This process is going to run its course. We know what type of young man he is — he’s a hard-working, diligent young man. It’ll be over. There will be a little bit of short-term misery, but it won’t be significant in the big scheme of things, hopefully.”
We had a lot of our major leadership leave, people that we count on. I think it’s nice for the younger guys to see a familiar face …