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NFL Steelers will use Polamalu at safety on dime defense

Friday, August 8, 2003

The Steelers hope the top draft pick can reinforce a vulnerable pass defense.
LATROBE, Pa. (AP) -- Troy Polamalu has moved quickly from being a special teams player to getting time in the nickel and dime defenses for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
All that was left for top draft pick was a starting safety job.
And on Monday he got that when he was named one of the safeties in the team's dime defense.
But despite praise and seeing plenty of playing time during camp, Polamalu isn't taking anything for granted.
"Everything's coming so slow. Hopefully, I can get better," he said. "I don't know. This probably isn't permanent. It's probably just to give me a look at seeing what it's like to play with the first team."
"A guy like Troy definitely gives us some flexibility because he does have the ability to cover in the slot," said Coach Bill Cowher. "We know he's an excellent blitzer, a lot like Mike Logan, and then certainly he can play the deep safety as well."
Pass defense
The Steelers traded up 11 spots to draft Polamalu, a three-year starter at strong safety and a two-time All-American at Southern Cal, to shore up their suspect pass defense.
Pittsburgh slid from No. 4 in pass defense in 2001 to No. 20 last season and was 27th in the NFL in third-down defense last year. The Steelers' final three opponents all threw for more than 300 yards last season, including the playoffs.
The secondary in the dime defense was considered a major flaw and the Steelers hope Polamalu will be an improvement over former safety Lee Flowers, who was criticized as too slow and too often a target for quarterbacks, especially in man-to-man coverage.
"He's very bright and a very instinctive football player. And when you talk to him, you can see the wheels turning and know he understands what you're talking about," said defensive coordinator Tim Lewis. "I just tell him where to line up, otherwise, he takes it over from there. He does a good job as far as playing the game is concerned."
Hope is out
In passing situations, Polamalu lined up next to Brent Alexander, the free safety, while strong safety Mike Logan, moves to dime back. The odd man out is Chris Hope, last year's third-round pick who was hoping to become a fixture in the passing-downs set.
Polamalu has been playing in the nickel package in a unique three-safety, two-cornerback package designed for teams such as the Baltimore Ravens, who use tight end Todd Heap as a deep threat. But the nickel is a novelty for the Steelers, who in the past few seasons have used the dime almost as often as their base package.
"I didn't really expect much," Polamalu said. "I expected to come in here and learn and help this team out. It didn't really matter whether it was going to be on special teams or playing on the first team."
The Steelers released punter Mike Hayes and signed punter Glenn Pakulak, a rookie from the University of Kentucky who was cut by the Seattle Seahawks prior to the start of training camp.
Offensive guard Dave Costa left the team and was replaced Monday by guard Mike Cook of Boston College. Cook last played in the NFL with Arizona and played last spring in NFL Europe.
Amos Zereoue (foot) and Chidi Iwuoma (ankle) returned to practice, but center Jeff Hartings missed the afternoon practice after reporting inflammation in his knee after the morning practice.