PITTSBURGH -- At any time in any game since he cracked the starting lineup for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004, Troy Polamalu could be seen darting about near the line of scrimmage.
The whirling dervish from Southern Cal, the Steelers first-round pick in 2003, would feign crashing the line and then drop into coverage or leap over potential blockers to thwart a play before it gets a chance to begin. That's not out of the ordinary for a linebacker, but Polamalu is a strong safety.
"I like being where the action is,'' Polamalu said.
That would make Polamalu's 2013 season action-packed, because his long mane can regularly be seen among the Steelers' front seven. In the latest tweak for Dick LeBeau's defense, the "quarters'' package that utilizes three linebackers, Polamalu lines up as an inside linebacker.
Polamalu noted that while he does not spend time in both meeting rooms, just the secondary and not the linebackers group, his game preparation time certainly has increased a bit.
"It just means I'm looking at different things,'' Polamalu said. "Not too many different things, but a few more.''
Polamalu couldn't put a number on how often he played linebacker, but game footage from last week's matchup against Miami revealed that he was there for 50 percent of the Steelers' defensive snaps. And since he is among three Steelers who have played every snap (along with Lawrence Timmons and Ben Roethlisberger), the 5-foot-10, 207-pound (soaking wet) Polamalu could suffer more wear and tear on his body while banging 300-pound offensive linemen.
"Well, some are even bigger than that, but regardless of what happened the previous season (injuries), I'm not preparing myself any differently or feeling any differently after games,'' Polamalu said. "(And) I guess it's all relative. Playing safety is difficult, and playing linebacker is difficult.
"So, they both have their little idiosyncrasies and tough in their own right. But they also have their own opportunities to make plays. There's different opportunities on the back end and different opportunities on the front end. It's challenging as much as it is playing safety. They're just different challenges.''
Polamalu has spent more time at linebacker this year than during any of his previous 10 NFL seasons, but that was because the Steelers lost dynamic defensive leader Larry Foote in the season-opener. Foote called the defensive signals, was a veteran team leader and solid tackler. Foote stayed in on passing downs, but his replacement -- rookie Vince Williams -- does not.
So, might the Steelers use Polamalu even more at inside linebacker next year? He likely will need to bulk up a bit to do it.
"Yeah, maybe to 245 and 6-2,'' Polamalu said. "(And) I'll really be a lot bigger five years from now, so I'll be looking at end or nose. (But) playing safety in this defense, you're in the box quite a bit, too, so you get to go up against linemen a bunch of times, too. But it's just different. You have different fits, and you're reading different things.''
While the Steelers secondary has been gouged by big pass plays occasionally in the past, no season compares to this one for the leaky defense that has allowed double-digit plays of 50 yards or more. And they're not all through the air. Against Miami, quarterback Ryan Tannehill ripped off a 48-yard run, while running back Daniel Thomas raced 55 yards with center Mike Pouncey pulling and plowing Polamalu.
"No, I didn't do my job there,'' Polamalu said. "I miss-fit it. I just miss-fit it. A miss-fit is not fit. No, I just didn't get over to my gap. I was supposed to be on his other shoulder. (The big plays) are very frustrating, but I don't know if surprised is a proper word for it. I've been on defenses that really have made their money on now allowing them at all or one in a season or two in a season.
"That's really surprising in both ways. How can we give up that many this year? And, as Coach correctly described it, we were really good back then. I didn't realize we were that good. But, living in the now, there are definitely some things that we can do better.''
On a positive note, Polamalu returned an interception for a touchdown. How did that make him feel?
"It hurt,'' Polamalu said, mostly because he dove over the pylon.
But also because the great play came in another losing effort. And at 5-8, there haven't been many positive points to this season for the Steelers.
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