Troy Polamalu says Steelers lost family atmosphere and camaraderie in 2012

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Steelers' 10th year safety Troy Polamalu says the team lost the family atmosphere and camaraderie it had in previous seasons. This year, though, those things are being rebuilt.

Tribune Review columnist Dejan Kovacevic wrote Sunday evening the safeties are the soul of any defense. When one half of the starting safeties of the team is a legend, a team should listen when he speaks.

When Troy Polamalu says a team didn't have the "camaraderie" or "family atmosphere," then it didn't. When Polamalu says those things more than anything else were the reasons why the Steelers fell to 8-8 last season, those around him should tend to agree.

Polamalu cuts through statistical reasons and provides a very simple explanation.

"To me, (camaraderie and family atmosphere) kind of what separates us from most teams, that we've had that foundation here," he told Kovacevic. "When talent is pretty equal across the board — and it is in the NFL — you're looking in areas other than schematics to gain an edge. And that was an edge we didn't have."

Polamalu's gridiron other half, Ryan Clark, agrees.

"This camp has been leaps and bounds better than last year as far as the chemistry," he said. "Guys aren't necessarily working harder. They're just working better together. There hasn't been that dissension ... even through the media, about this guy not getting along with that guy, different fights happening, you haven't seen that. I think that bodes well for us. That's the Steelers you're used to seeing. And I think it showed in our play and our execution."

It's about working and playing well with others.

Whether this is latent confirmation as to what former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said after the 2011 season will likely never be answered, but one factor in all of this is the fewer amount of salary cap-related cuts that had to be made in those seasons compared to this past year. While Emmanuel Sanders didn't get a long-term deal, he did get a hefty raise on top of his restricted free agency tender. Steve McLendon, Ramon Foster and Larry Foote got new contracts and the team brought back Matt Spaeth.

Without the pall hanging over the locker room in terms of the future status of key players like Mike Wallace and James Harrison, or the pending releases of Aaron Smith, James Farrior and Ward, contract news was mostly positive from the players' perspective.

Not that money is what binds a family together, but it's tough to argue the emotional impact of long-time players leaving compared with guys like Foote being retained.

Now, they only have that camaraderie to rebuild. Or, according to Polamalu, continue rebuilding.

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