Troy Re-Born As ILB

Troy as MLB (Blaze/Getty Images)

After playing 49 of his 76 snaps at ILB Sunday in an oft-used sub-package, Troy Polamalu talked about the drawbacks and differences.

PITTSBURGH -- Troy Polamalu missed Tuesday's practice, but he said it had nothing to do with the wear and tear of playing his new position:

Inside linebacker.

"Nah, not too much," said the 207-pound Polamalu, who was merely rested on Tuesday. "I'm in there bumping shoulders with linemen all the time, whether I'm playing linebacker in sub-packages or not."

Polamalu, of course, is the Steelers' strong safety. And while he's tied with Lawrence Timmons for the team lead in snaps this season with 746, almost half of those snaps were taken as an inside backer in the team's "quarters," or three-safety, package that has gradually grown in usage since the opening-day injury to linebacker Larry Foote.

"It's not too much different from playing strong safety," Polamalu said. "The reads are a little easier. You've just got to get used to different gap fits and whatnot."

Polamalu had a classic "whatnot" play Sunday in Cleveland when he blitzed, was picked up, then rolled back out to take on the running back. Polamalu not only brought him down, but forced a fumble and recovered it.

"I just saw a pile of guys and then I see this guy coming out with the ball," Polamalu said. "I thought, 'Oh my gosh, how could he get through?' That was really my last thought."

Polamalu wasn't impressed by the play. Neither was his long-time sidekick at safety, Ryan Clark.

"Nah, that was pretty simple -- for him," Clark said. "You're talking about Troy. For somebody that was human that would be a great play, but for him that was nothing.

"You know, it's sad to say," Clark continued, "but I think we've gotten desensitized to it. If another guy makes one of those plays, you think it's amazing. If another guy jumps over the line for the first time, you think it's amazing. We've seen him do it five times. If another guy scoops the ball off the ground with one hand, in the snow, we think to ourselves 'Oh, I can't believe that person made that play.' If Troy does it, you shake his hand, pat him on the helmet, and we sit down and we all pray. He's just an amazing talent, but even more an awesome person. You begin to expect those things from him."

What about playing linebacker?

"I couldn't do it," Clark said. "But for Troy, I think he's found innovative ways to play the position that other people can't. There's no linebacker-like bodies that move the way he does, or that understand football the way he does, so I think he's used that to overcome his lack of size at the position. But also, when he's had to be stout and take on linemen and fullbacks, he's done an excellent job of it.

"You know, his first year at USC he was a Sam-backer, so maybe he's drawing on some of that experience. But he's done an excellent job, first of all accepting it with the understanding that that's what he has to do for the team, even though he's a very valuable player deep and he can make more plays and read the quarterback. He accepted that he would be playing in the box and that would take away some of his movement and some of his opportunity to make plays. So the humility to do that is huge, first of all. But also, taking on the physical grind of being in the box and taking on blockers, he accepted that as well, and I think he's even improved on the position just through his talent and his intellect."

Polamalu was asked if he misses anything about playing safety full-time.

"One thing I do miss about it is seeing the ball," he said. "Seeing the ball from downhill, rather than seeing the ball going back. That's one thing that I do miss."

IT'S CALLED SNOW, MOM

Mike Tomlin was in the workout room looking out the back window at the practice field Tuesday morning when he saw rookie linebacker Vince Williams walk outside with his phone.

Williams, from Florida, took a picture of the snow and sent it to his mom.

"This isn't the first time I've seen the snow," Williams said calmly, and then he worked himself into a shout: "BUT THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I'VE LIVED IN IT!

"There's no escaping it now."

Williams said that his family has taken trips to his aunt's house in Philadelphia and experienced snow there.

"I just was always able to leave whenever I felt like it," he said. "This is the first time I've ever had to drive in it, and practice in it, and play in it."

To that end, Williams said he's making sound progress after seven NFL starts at the complicated Buck linebacker position.

"I'm starting to get comfortable with my role," he said. "I'm starting to make a few more plays. Hopefully I can just keep it going."

NEWS AND NOTES

Nose tackle Steve McLendon was the only player to miss the entirety of Tuesday's practice. RT Marcus Gilbert (ankle), TE Heath Miller (rest), Polamalu, and OLB LaMarr Woodley (calf) practiced on a limited basis.

Reserve cornerback Curtis Brown, who had been placed on injured reserve Monday, was replaced by cornerback Isaiah Green, who was put on the active roster for the fourth time this season.

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