It didn't take long for Troy Polamalu to look like the player he was last season before he injured his Achilles tendon.
In his first appearance since the Super Bowl, Polamalu looked like the 2010 NFL defensive player of the year with a number of dazzling plays in the first half of a 24-14 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The highlight was an interception of a tipped Michael Vick pass in which Polamalu weaved his way for a 36-yard return, holding the ball one-handed and looking as if he wanted to lateral before eventually being tackled low by Vick. The interception set up Byron Leftwich's 20-yard touchdown pass to new receiver Jerricho Cotchery that made it 21-0 with 12 seconds remaining in the half.
And it was only the preseason.
"When you're taking it back, in the middle of the game, you don't know if you're in the postseason or the preseason," Polamalu said.
Polamalu made his presence known on several other occasions.
He nearly had another interception on a pass intended for wide receiver Jason Avant, but the ball was tipped by linebacker Lawrence Timmons as Polamalu closed on the receiver. One play earlier, Polamalu came flying to the line of scrimmage and took out pulling guard Todd Herremans, allowing linebacker LaMarr Woodley to stop running back LeSean McCoy (from Pitt) after a 2-yard gain.
In the second quarter, Polamalu made a diving breakup of a pass for tight end Brent Celek.
"I just went out and played ball," Polamalu said, "We'll see what the film looks like."
Polamalu played the final game of the 2010 regular season and throughout the postseason with a partial tear of the Achilles tendon, an injury that prevented him from accelerating and robbed him of his explosiveness. He did not need surgery in the offseason and was able to rehabilitate the injury while he spent the offseason in Los Angeles. He was held out of preseason opener Friday night against the Washington Redskins, but played the first half against the Eagles.
Talk about high-profile D ...
Much has been made of the high-profile additions to the Eagles roster, especially at cornerback where Nnamdi Asomugha was signed to a big free-agent contract and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was obtained in the Kevin Kolb trade with Arizona. But it was the Steelers secondary that looked like a cast of Pro Bowlers, intercepting four passes.
The Steelers intercepted three Vick passes in the opening 30 minutes.
Polamalu, Ryan Clark and cornerback Keenan Lewis had the picks, with Polamalu and Clark combining for 62 return yards. Linebacker Larry Foote added another in the third quarter, intercepting a pass by backup quarterback Vince Young.
The Steelers had 21 interceptions in 2010, second most in the AFC behind the New England Patriots. Lewis, starting for injured Ike Taylor, intercepted a pass that was intended for wide receiver Chad Hall at the Steelers 30.
"You got to be a playmaker when you get the chance," Lewis said. "That's the thing I've been trying to work on. It definitely gets you noticed."
It might not have been enough to impress his favorite judge, Bruno Tonioli, but Hines Ward broke out a new dance after scoring on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger in the second quarter.
Ward put both hands behind his head and, gyrating his hips, danced around the ball as it was lying on the ground. He called it the samba, which he performed on "Dancing With The Stars."
"I got them all lined up for the season," Ward said, referring to his touchdown dances.
Injuries delay Hills' switch
The experiment to play Tony Hills at right guard was delayed when left tackle Jonathan Scott (right knee) was injured on the first play and his backup, rookie Marcus Gilbert (left knee), was injured on the same series.
That forced Hills to move to left tackle, his natural position, where he played the rest of the first half. Hills, though, went to right guard and Kyle Jolly played left tackle to start the second half.
"I definitely want the spot," Hills said about starting at right guard. "I'm not making any surprises about that. Anyone who plays this game wants to start."
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @gerrydulac.