On the Steelers: Polamalu looks like old self, but injury questions remain
August 12, 2013 12:00 PM
New York Giants' Victor Cruz gets by Steelers safety Troy Polamalu for a touchdown in the first quarter Saturday at Heinz Field. The first preseason game for both teams ended in a Giants victory, 18-13.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Who was that player bouncing around in the Steelers defense early Saturday night at Heinz Field, jumping over linemen, disrupting the New York Giants' running game?
Troy Polamalu has been missing much of the past year and has had a quiet training camp. He made news just once this summer when coach Mike Tomlin reasoned that he gave his 32-year-old safety a day off because of a contusion to his birth certificate.
But that was vintage Polamalu in the early stages of the first exhibition game Saturday night, darting here and there at the line of scrimmage, making a pest of himself as the Giants struggled on the ground.
Yet all he wanted to talk about after New York's 18-13 victory was the mistake he made in coverage that allowed Victor Cruz to get deep for a 57-yard touchdown reception from Eli Manning.
"I was guessing," Polamalu said.
Cruz raced past cornerback William Gay down the middle and Polamalu came too late to his assignment, which was to pick him up deep.
"The good part, to be honest, is I know I can correct those mistakes," Polamalu said. "It's tough when you have to rely on other people to correct their mistakes. It's nice that I'm a weakness at this point.
"I made a mistake that I know I have to correct and that's huge. It's better than making it in Week 1. But there's also part of the preseason where you have to get a feel for what you can get away with and what you can't get away with. So we learned a lot, speaking for the first-team defense, for sure."
The Steelers would gladly accept the occasional Polamalu coverage error instead of the weakness that was Polamalu in 2012 -- his disappearing act. He played only seven games because of a persistent calf injury.
He said that calf gives him no problem now and he feels healthy, but provides a caveat.
"To be honest, I felt good last preseason too," Polamalu said. "It wasn't until like, the practice the week before [the regular-season opener] that I tweaked my calf. So I just have to make sure I stay on top of it this whole preseason."
Polamalu has been a laid-back practice player this summer, one who also has quietly avoided interviews. Usually, he reserves the kind of hyper-activity he showed Saturday night for the regular season.
Wanting to set a tone, perhaps, that he is ready to resume the position?
"I don't know. I wanted to fall into the groove of getting into the rhythm of the game," Polamalu said. "But there has to be a balance the way I approach the game. There are spots where you can take your shots and there are spots you can't take your shots. There are times when you get your shots with the right pieces in place.
"That's all part of this relearning process for myself and the secondary."
Woods makes a splash
The most productive Steelers defender against the Giants was not named Polamalu nor LaMarr Woodley nor Lawrence Timmons.
Al Woods might have had the best day of any defender on the field. Woods, playing defensive end, had a sack, two tackles for losses, a quarterback hurry and led the defense with six solo tackles and nine overall. It's the kind of play the Steelers might expect from one of their first-round picks at defensive end.
Woods has spent much of training camp playing nose tackle while Alameda Ta'amu was on the physically unable to perform list. With Ta'amu back, Woods played plenty of defensive end Saturday.
"Whatever the play was called, [I was] just running that play," Woods said. "If it meant for me to contain, I contained. If it was for me to rush, I rushed, if it was for me to take up two blockers to make sure the middle was clogged up, that's what I did, and it just opened up."
Woods, drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the fourth round in 2010, is with his fourth team after the Steelers claimed him in November 2011 from Seattle and in his second stint with the Steelers. He was with them all last season, and for almost two months in 2010, and his versatility and improved play will keep him here again.
• Woodley could be spotted early in the game covering a tight end about 30 yards downfield. Apparently he has not convinced defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau it's time for a change in tactics.
• With Plaxico Burress lost (he is scheduled for surgery today, his birthday, to repair a rotator cuff), the fifth spot for wide receiver could come down to rookie Justin Brown vs. David Gilreath. Brown led the Steelers Saturday with four receptions for 32 yards. Gilreath did not catch a pass, but did fumble one of his two punt returns.
• Just like last year at this time, there were no deep passes from the Steelers, who averaged 8.1 yards per reception with a long of 14.
• After Kelvin Beachum, the Steelers have little depth on their offensive line and none of the young linemen have made much of an impression two weeks and one game into the preseason.
Rookie tackle Mike Farrell, a Fox Chapel native who played at Penn State and Shady Side Academy, was cut Thursday but re-signed Saturday morning.
The Steelers will spend the rest of the time between now and Labor Day perusing the waiver wire for linemen. If they run into the kinds of injuries on their line the way they did in 2012, you would not want to be Ben Roethlisberger or any of his running backs.