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Professors Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu working with star pupil Shamarko Thomas

In the subject of Advanced LeBeau, few would earn an 'A' blindfolded the way Steelers safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu would. They're bestowing rookie safety Shamarko Thomas with that wisdom and teaching.

Justin K. Aller

The tales of the difficulty of learning the Steelers defense are true. Just ask rookie safety Shamarko Thomas.

Tribune Review reporter Mark Kaboly went to Thomas - as well as veteran safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark - to get the low-down on the depth of Thomas's learning curve.

"This defense is hard; I am not going to lie," Thomas said. "I ask (Clark and Polamalu) about something, and they break it down from the nickel position to the dime position to the safety and corner position. They know it all."

They're both more than just teaching assistants, though.

Adjunct professors with a combined seven seasons' worth of lessons to give the first year player. It'd be tough for Thomas to find two better tutors in Advanced LeBeau 440. Both have been to Pro Bowls playing in this defense and the Steelers are among the top units in yards allowed and scoring in the time both Polamalu and Clark have been with the team.

It takes both teachers and students for the learning process to reach its apex. According to Kaboly, both Clark and Polamalu have been more than willing to help Thomas.

Clark, in fact, says they've been asking for the opportunity to do so.

"Troy and I have asked for years for a guy to mentor," Clark told Kaboly. "Some players feel like they can play forever. We understand it is not going to be that way. We want to see somebody take it over and do well."

How thrilled Clark and/or Polamalu are to have the future ushered onto the team sooner rather than later remains to be seen, but the defensive dominance they've helped build is just as much a part of their legacy as the Super Bowl they won together in 2008 or any highlights they've put on the field.

It makes sense they'd like to pass that along to the next generation.