Troy Polamalu lines up and plays all over the field for the Steelers, yet he found it difficult to open his sixth training camp at a new position yesterday -- on the sideline.
That came courtesy of an injury to his left hamstring that developed a week ago today while he was running to stay in shape.
"It's always miserable being injured," Polamalu said.
He became all-too familiar with that misery a year ago when he missed five full games and played in many others with injuries that varied from broken/bruised ribs, a partially torn PCL in a knee and an abdominal injury.
His latest setback, which prompted coach Mike Tomlin to place him on the physically unable to perform list and thus unable to practice, does not appear to be serious. Polamalu could have avoided the conditioning test Sunday in which he completed all eight 100-yard runs, but he opted to go through it.
Afterward, he wrapped his hamstring and that night the coach placed him on the PUP.
"There's no hidden story there," Tomlin said. "He has a mild hamstring [injury]; he did it late in the summer training for camp.
"He was well enough to run the conditioning test but that didn't include changes of direction and some of the short bursts that we all know he's capable of. We're going to deal with a little short-term misery and allow him to be well."
Polamalu could return to full active status in a matter of days, but then, it's not important to have him on the field in the first week or two of training camp as it is a healthy Polamalu for all of the 2008 season.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may be the most important player on the team, but the Steelers' defense revolves around Polamalu. It is why he's their highest-paid defensive player in history.
"You know on any play he can make a great, spectacular play," 11th-year cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "He's one of those players who's truly a playmaker. Any time you have him out there, you know some plays are going to be made. That's one thing that you miss when he's hurt is having a tremendous playmaker out there."
For the first time since his arrival in 2003, Polamalu had neither sacks nor interceptions last season. His 74 tackles were his fewest since his rookie season, when he did not start. It was to his credit that he maintained his pass defense with 11 passes broken up -- just one fewer than his personal high -- and a career-high three forced fumbles.
He did not look like the same player, though, because of the rib and knee injuries. It's one reason he returned to California this spring to work with his personal trainer, Marv Marinovich, rather than with his teammates in Pittsburgh.
Polamalu, a California native, said he accomplished everything he wanted to this spring and reported to camp in great shape -- other than the hamstring problem -- and at a new weight.
"Physically I feel better, I feel more rejuvenated that I was able to get the proper training and rehabilitation for my knee," he said. "Also, being around my [extended] family for a long period of time is always nice as well."
Polamalu played at 215 pounds his first few years, then dropped back to between 200-205 to help him cover receivers man to man. He's back to 215 today because he believes he needs a little more to take on the linemen he often faces because he often plays closer to the line of scrimmage than most safeties in the game.
"I felt more of a toll taken on my body, that I needed to be bigger," Polamalu said.
The Steelers had the No. 1 defense overall in yards allowed last season but their big plays sunk -- to just 36 sacks (down three from 2006 and 11 from 2005) and only 11 interceptions (down nine from 2006).
The dip in big plays and interceptions might have contributed to the Steelers' defense not being able to hold some leads last season.
"Yeah, we got off the field the hard way -- we worked, we worked," Polamalu said. "It'd feel great if we make some big plays and turnovers; that right there would make us one of the top teams in the NFL."
For them to be that, they need a full-time, healthy Polamalu on the field.
"It's really exciting to be back. I'm like a thoroughbred when you put him in the gates."
It's just not yet post time for Polamalu.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published July 29, 2008 4:00 AM