Polamalu will pace himself in camp as Achilles tendon continues to heal
Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu watches defensive drills at training camp at St Vincent College, Latrobe, PA.
Coach Mike Tomlin keeps a close eye on players at warm-ups before Sunday workouts at training camp at Saint Vincent College.
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Troy Polamalu is less concerned about when he will sign a contract extension with the Steelers and more concerned how his rehabilitated Achilles tendon will hold up once the regular season begins.
Polamalu, the NFL's defensive player of the year in 2010, was on the field at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe Sunday for the first practice in pads at training camp -- a good sign for the Steelers' five-time Pro Bowl safety.
But that does not mean Polamalu is fully recovered from a partially torn Achilles that appeared to limit his effectiveness in the postseason and the Super Bowl. Polamalu did not need surgery to repair the injury, but the rehabilitation process took longer than expected because the tendon had to heal on its own.
"It went well," Polamalu said. "It's always advantageous [when you don't have surgery]. But it's a disadvantage that it takes time for nature to take its course."
Asked when he started to feel he was close to being 100 percent recovered, Polamalu said, "I don't think it's there yet, but it's pretty close to being there."
Probably not what anyone was hoping to hear from Polamalu, who was robbed of his trademark explosiveness in the postseason because of the injury.
After a regular season in which he led the team with seven interceptions and sparked the run to the postseason with his big strip-sack in Baltimore, Polamalu was not his usual disruptive and omni-present self in the playoffs. It seemed especially apparent in the Super Bowl when the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers tore through the Steelers secondary with ease, passing for 304 yards and three touchdowns.
Polamalu injured his Achilles when he dove for the end zone after an interception return for a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 12. He missed two games, then returned for the season finale in Cleveland and had two more interceptions.
But he was never the same.
Polamalu spent the offseason in the care of an orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles who is friendly with the Steelers medical staff, allowing them to monitor his progress. He may not be 100 percent just yet, but he expects to be in time for the regular season.
Just to be sure, he said he will be cautious in training camp. "Definitely before the regular season," Polamalu said. "The big test is coming out here and doing football movements. It's hard to simulate movements by yourself."
The preseason, he said, "is a different speed. But the risk is still there for injury.
"It's like any other injury, really. There's always a chance to re-injure. But that's what constant rehab and constant maintenance is for."
And that's what the preseason is for, though, in this instance, Polamalu will tread carefully until the Sept. 11 game in Baltimore. There is no way any preseason game can simulate the speed of a regular-season game, especially one against the Ravens.
Asked if the injury took longer to heal than he expected, Polamalu said, "I never had one before so I didn't really know what to expect."
Polamalu's contract -- a four-year extension worth $30.19 million that he signed in July 2007 -- expires after this season. He and the Steelers would like to sign another long-term deal that would keep him with the team probably until he retires. But that will have to wait.
The Steelers' top priority is to get a long-term contract for outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who was designated the team's franchise player.
Before they do that, they will try to restructure the contracts of five players this week in an attempt to get under the salary cap of roughly $120 million by Thursday. If they do that, the Steelers believe they will not have to release any more players on their roster to save money.
Maybe then they can go to work on getting a new deal for Polamalu.
"This lockout, they have other things going on," Polamalu said. "I'm not too worried about it. They've been more than fair to me. It's been a good relationship."
First Published August 1, 2011 12:00 am