On the Steelers: How will Polamalu's injury impact the defense?
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Troy Polamalu is Ryan Clark's best friend. It does not mean the two safeties cannot have a difference of opinion.
The debate centers around how Polamalu's absence over the next three to six games will affect the Steelers' defense. Both feel it will have an effect, but in different ways. Polamalu thinks the defense might be better with veteran Tyrone Carter playing strong safety instead of him.
"Any time he's ever stepped in he's done just as good a job or better job," Polamalu said yesterday, speaking publicly for the first time since his left MCL was sprained in the season opener Thursday night. "So, I know you couldn't imagine there would be any drop-off, especially with, God-willing, Lawrence Timmons coming back this week.
"You know our defense will get even better from week one to week two. So, it'll be an exciting time for our defense."
That, of course, is Troy being Troy. There may never have been a more humble person with that kind of talent in the Steelers' defense.
Polamalu did confirm that he should miss three to six weeks, that it is the same injury to the same knee that caused him to miss three games in 2007 and that no surgery is required.
"There's no question I'm very blessed that this scenario has come about rather than any worse scenario," Polamalu said.
Clark may feel that way too, but he does not think the Steelers in any way got a lucky break by losing one of their best players for a stretch.
"That's the way coach Tomlin tries to program us where, in his words, the standard does not change. That's how we try to take it and go out there and play," Clark told a handful of writers gathered around him yesterday.
"But I would be foolish to sit in front of you guys and say it won't be different without him. And you guys would be even more foolish to print it."
It's nothing against Carter, who has filled in nicely at both safety spots and plays in their quarter defense that deploys three safeties. But he's no Polamalu.
"He's the best safety in football, bar none," Clark said. "And when you lose a guy like that, it's hard and it's tough. ... We're going to miss him. There's only one Troy, man, not just on this team but in the whole NFL. There are plays he can make that nobody can. For us, I think the biggest thing is not stepping out of what it is we do as individuals, just knowing we have to do our job.
"So he's going to be missed, but we're going to come out and play and hold the fort down until he comes back."
Polamalu spends a lot of time counting his blessings, and he'll tell anyone about them if asked. Like the one-handed interception he made at the 4 to stop a Titans drive cold Thursday night?
"Lucky things happen, you know. Sometimes things just fall in your lap."
Polamalu said there is "no question" he was lucky to make that interception. He also said he was not playing any better in the first quarter than normal.
"Ummmm, no, not really. I was doing what my responsibility was in any defense, just like in any other previous game or previous play."
The Steelers will not add a safety to their 53-man roster as they wait for Polamalu to heal and return. Ryan Mundy, who spent the second half of last season on the team's practice squad after he was drafted in the sixth round, will back up both Clark and Carter.
"We call him Wonderlic because he's a very intelligent guy," Clark said, referring to the intelligence test given to players before they enter the NFL. "A good football player. I think he can handle it. He came in and played the dime for us last week and handled it well. We have all the trust in him and Tyrone that we'll be OK."
The reason the Steelers opted to stay with only three healthy safeties lies at cornerback. There, they have three players who either have played safety or showed in practice they can -- Deshea Townsend, Keiwan Ratliff and starter William Gay.
"It's still football," Clark said. "You lose a guy and you keep playing. Last year that was one of the strengths of our team; we were able to lose people, put people in, plug them in and make plays."
The Steelers were not openly celebrating the fact they will not have to play against Chicago Bears Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. But they will not miss him in the middle of that defense, ranked No. 5 in the NFL last season against the run.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Urlacher will miss the rest of the season following wrist surgery.
"I know, it's disappointing," Polamalu said. "You hate for that to happen to anybody, even against any rival."
First Published September 15, 2009 12:00 am