On the Steelers: Oft-injured Polamalu switches tactics

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The right calf injury that reduced Steelers safety Troy Polamalu's 2012 season to seven games also bothered him in 2011, when he played in them all. And in 2010, when he was NFL defensive player of the year. And in 2009.

This year, he decided to do something about it.

"I've done quite a bit of different things this offseason," Polamalu, 32, said after the first spring practice. "For sure, there's a lot of different rehab and training.

"When you have an injury that's bothered you for four years, there gets to be so much scar tissue in there."

The root of Polamalu's problems go to scar tissue that built up in his right calf. He played only five games in 2009 because of continuing problems with a knee injury. He missed two games in 2010 with what was described as an ankle injury, but nevertheless was voted defensive player of the year. He played every game in 2011 and made his fifth Pro Bowl.

Yet, he said, all was not right, and this year he wanted to make sure he did what he could to try to minimize the affects of the scar tissue that caused him so many problems last season.

"If you don't attack the problem of scar tissue, then you're just going to continue to have problems. So, this year, I've really focused on that, found a great physical therapist, obviously continued to work with my trainer. So everything has evolved there and evolved nicely."

Breaking up the scar tissue became the goal.

"Not to get too deep into muscular biomechanics, but you can break down scar tissue. The problem is your body has to continue to learn how to re-adapt with broken scar tissue. These are all things I have learned," Polamalu said. "Hopefully, all of this will make these problems obsolete."

Polamalu acknowledged that he attacked the problem more this year than he did previously and explained why he did not do so earlier.

"You know, you kind of rehab, you feel good in the offseason, you come back ... we'll see. Time will tell how things evolve."

Like others, Polamalu noticed a difference in attitude during the first of the 10 permitted voluntary spring practices.

"There's a little more of an edge. Sometimes, when you've had consecutive years of some success, you get a little complacent, which is maybe natural, I don't know. It's definitely something that we've probably dealt with around here a little bit, last season being an example.

"But it's nice to see young faces."

Among those is rookie Shamarko Thomas, a safety from Syracuse the Steelers so coveted they traded their third-round draft pick in 2014 to Cleveland for the Browns' fourth-round choice they used to pick him. Speculation quickly began that Thomas could be Polamalu's successor.

"He's a great, great kid," Polamalu said. "Very humble, willing to learn. What's nice is we know he has people around him who want to teach him everything. I can give him all the experience of football I have. I tried my best to convey that to him, to keep him from maybe having to overcome a lot of the mistakes I've had in my career."

Big Ben ready to be mentor

Ben Roethlisberger lost both veteran quarterbacks behind him and his favorite deep threat. He said he's ready to become a mentor to the other quarterbacks, 30-year-old veteran Bruce Gradkowski, signed as a free agent, and fourth-round draft choice Landry Jones.

"I'm excited to be that guy that is a leader for those guys, help them. I'm going to do everything I can to help those guys get ready to play because I'm here to win games. We've had other guys step up and play and win games for us in the past, and I'm excited to help these guys get ready to go if need be."

Receiver Mike Wallace moved to Miami as a free agent, leaving the Steelers with a mixture of old and young at the position. Back are Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress. The Steelers also drafted Markus Wheaton in the third round and Justin Brown in the sixth. Wheaton cannot participate in OTAs because of an NFL rule barring players whose college exams have not yet been completed.

"Obviously, we're going to miss Mike as a personal friend, teammate," Roethlisberger said. "We have to be ready to move on. We've got a lot of young guys, and we've got some guys back. We have a good mixture of people in that room who are going to be ready to go."

Iwuoma newest scout

The Steelers hired former player Chidi Iwuoma as their BLESTO scout. Iwuoma played mostly on special teams from 2002-06 for them. Mike Butler, hired two weeks ago as their BLESTO scout, will work as one of their area college scouts. The opening for Iwuoma's hiring occurred when Kelvin Fisher left to become college scouting director for the Buffalo Bills.

Quick hits

Asked if anything jumped out at him in the first spring practice, coach Mike Tomlin said, "Not at all. Football in shorts." ... As expected, the Steelers will start out playing Marcus Gilbert at left tackle and Mike Adams at right tackle. Tomlin said he was not sure which side either would play, and they likely will switch sides at some point this spring when all kinds of position experiments take place in the offensive line. ... Tight end Heath Miller did not practice but was on site in shorts walking without a limp or a knee brace after his season-ending surgery to repair ligaments.

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For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published May 22, 2013 4:00 AM

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