The Steelers have picked up one of the NFL's best defensive players and he could make a huge impact in 2013.
His name is Troy Polamalu.
For the third preseason game in a row, Polamalu played like it was 2010. That was his NFL Defensive Player of the Year season. If he can keep this up, the Steelers will have added a valued piece to a defense that mostly went missing in 2012. And they will have both Jerome Bettis and an unnamed physical therapist from California to thank for it.
Steelers Report: Good news for Jarvis Jones
Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac update the injury to Jarvis Jones as the team prepares for its final preseason game. (Video by Matt Freed; 8/26/2013)
Polamalu was up to his old disruptive self Saturday night against the Kansas City Chiefs. He helped blow up several plays, including the fourth-and-1 Chiefs gamble that Jarvis Jones and Ziggy Hood were credited for stopping in the first quarter.
"He looks good, man," fellow safety Ryan Clark said. "He's healthy, he's been able to practice every day. ... He's running well, his weight is down, I think that is what's the most important thing, him being in position to stay healthy."
Polamalu cited Bettis for a long-ago lesson he said he finally learned this year -- not to enter the season with an injury -- although sometimes it cannot be avoided. Last season, Polamalu said he felt as good as he ever had in the 16th game. But he played in just seven games because of his lingering calf injury.
"I've had the calf problem for the last three, four years and in the offseason it kind of goes away," Polamalu said. "But when you start practicing ... the calf tightens and it eventually goes."
So he hired a physical therapist in California and worked with him every day in the offseason. The therapist now flies to Pittsburgh every other week so he can work on Polamalu, starting at 5 a.m. each day.
For now it seems to be working, but as Polamalu well knows and says: "There's still a long ways to go.''
Jones still a long shot
Felix Jones "led" the Steelers in rushing Saturday night with 29 yards on eight carries, and he could lead them again Thursday in Carolina because they might use him more than any other back.
There's no use risking injury to the backs they're counting on.
Jones, the first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2008, has an uphill battle to earn a roster spot, but he took one step Sunday when the Steelers released Baron Batch. The Steelers acquired Jones in a trade with the Eagles for outside linebacker Adrian Robinson, who was not going to make the team anyway in his second season here.
"Obviously, we're short at the running back position," coach Mike Tomlin explained. "Isaac Redman didn't play [against Kansas City], LaRod Stephens-Howling didn't play and Le'Veon Bell didn't play. We had an opportunity to acquire a guy that's a known commodity in the NFL. We got him in here at the 11th hour. I thought he did a nice job in terms of preparing and being able to do something for us in the game. We'll continue to get to know him."
Jonathan Dwyer started Saturday night and had 25 yards on eight carries.
"I mean, we need an extra body," Dwyer said of Jones' arrival. "We don't have too many guys. It is what it is. If he can help us out, that's fine."
MAC linebacker stands out
James Harrison now plays in Cincinnati, but there was an unheralded outside linebacker Saturday night who bore some resemblance to him.
Alan Baxter, who has done well this summer, came to the forefront in a big way for the Steelers against the Chiefs with two sacks, a tackle for a loss, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry.
He's an undrafted, undersized rookie from the Mid-American Conference who stands just 6 feet. Sound familiar? At Northern Illinois, he played in 52 games, started 24 and had 16 career sacks. Baxter is yet another reason the Steelers could afford to trade Robinson for Jones.
• The defense had three forced fumbles (one recovered) and a Jarvis Jones interception that was nullified by a penalty to go with five sacks. Those kinds of plays are what the Steelers were looking for the past two seasons in an otherwise No. 1-ranked defense.
• Redman might start at halfback when the season opens Sept. 8, and he might do so having played in just one preseason game with two carries. There is no reason to risk playing him Thursday at Carolina. He did not suit up Saturday after leaving practice 10 days ago with a stinger.
• When he has not covered the other team's best receiver and followed him wherever he lines up (except the slot), Ike Taylor has been the Steelers' right cornerback. Saturday night, he played left cornerback and Cortez Allen played on the right. Allen shrugged it off but it's possible the young player is more comfortable playing on the right side.
• Tackle Kelvin Beachum played plenty of tight end Saturday and could play more while Heath Miller recovers from his knee injury. The Steelers always valued the blocking portion of their tight ends more than the receiving part and nobody says you have to throw to the tight end. The year before Miller arrived, tight ends Jerame Tuman (9), Jay Riemersma (7) and Matt Cushing (1) combined for 17 receptions in 2004 and the Steelers managed to go 15-1.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published August 26, 2013 4:00 AM