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PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have been owned by the same family for 70 years. They've



Published: Sun, April 27, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have been owned by the same family for 70 years. They've switched coaches once in 34 years. Clearly, this is a franchise that embraces tradition and eschews change.

All that went out the window Saturday when they moved up 11 spots in the NFL draft to take Southern Cal safety Troy Polamalu -- the player they targeted days ago and, apparently, were determined to get at any price.

It is believed to be the first time the Steelers traded up in the first round, much less so many spots. They have traded down numerous times to add picks but always refused to give them up, as they did by dealing their third- and sixth-round picks to Kansas City to move from 27th to 16th in the first round.

Promised starting role

The Steelers also never promise an incoming player, much less one who has never stepped foot in an NFL locker room, he will start. Coach Bill Cowher and director of football operations Kevin Colbert all but did that after drafting Polamalu to fill a hole in their secondary that's so big, Jerome Bettis could run through it.

"He plays safety like Junior Seau plays linebacker," said Colbert, who usually isn't one for hype or gratuitous ego-stroking.

When he arrived Saturday, Cowher was discouraged the Steelers might not get Polamalu. But after a flurry of first-round deals, the Chiefs made it known they would trade down, and the Steelers quickly made a deal.

"People were moving in and out, teams were coming from everywhere," Cowher said. "He's a player we knew we could get [at No. 16]."

The Steelers telegraphed their first-round pick, but their second-rounder was a surprise: Alonzo Jackson, a 266-pound Florida State defensive end who will switch to outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense.

Cowher, who covets those who play with the same intensity and ferocity with which he coaches, talked of Polamalu as if the Steelers had just acquired an All-Pro, rather than a college All-American.

"He has unique ability to cover like a cornerback and hit like a linebacker," Cowher said. "I talked to [Southern Cal coach] Pete Carroll and he couldn't say enough good things about him."

USC coach lauds Polamalu

Carroll's most effusive praise for the 5-foot-10, 206-pound Polamalu: He's the best safety he's ever been around, pro or college. Carroll is the former New York Jets coach.

"I've heard he's said that to people, but I've never heard it out of his mouth," Polamalu said. "I've had a little success in college, but I haven't even had a taste of the pros yet."

He'll soon get it, starting with a rookie minicamp next weekend. The Steelers have known since early last season that they needed an upgrade at strong safety and, unless he repeats some of his past medical problems, Polamalu should be a lock to start.

The Steelers fell from fifth to 20th in pass coverage last season, allowing 30 or more points eight times, including both playoff games. They subsequently declined to re-sign longtime starting safety Lee Flowers, who is adept at stopping the run but struggles in man-to-man coverage against fast receivers.

Has 4.3 speed in 40 dash

Polamalu also is more of a hitter than a coverage specialist, but the Steelers love his 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash and ability to deliver big hits. Considered Southern Cal's strongest player, he prefers to head to the weight room on Sunday afternoons than watch NFL games on TV.

The Steelers also hope it is an omen that, when they called him, he was in the middle of a celebratory good-luck dance at uncle Kennedy Pola's house. Pola coaches Southern Cal's running backs.




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