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Madden: Polamalu's impact hits home with teammates

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Rookie safety Troy Polamalu keeps to himself on and off the field. When he talks, it is about football, and he limits his conversation to his coaches and veteran safety Mike Logan.

Rookie linebacker Alonzo Jackson talks to everybody about everything. In the fine tradition of rookie hazing, he serves as packhorse to Jason Gildon and Joey Porter, toting their shoulder pads to and fro. Jackson is outgoing and gregarious.

Safety Brent Alexander says some of the Steelers' veteran defensive backs are upset by Polamalu's quick rise up the depth chart. I'm willing to bet one of them happens to be Alexander.

Meanwhile, no one has a discouraging word to say about Jackson.

Welcome to pro football in particular and pro sports in general, where being a man is definitely all about being one of the boys.

But the seemingly different attitude of the Steelers' veterans toward Polamalu and Jackson has less to do with that than it does job security for certain folks.

Before we go further, a word from Capt. Obvious: Polamalu already is on the first unit of the Steelers' dime defense and will be on the first unit of every defensive alignment before long. Polamalu is part safety, part linebacker and all big hitter, a definite difference-maker who will be a Pro Bowler the minute he masters man coverage (or picking up the 7-10 split).

Coach Bill Cowher says Jackson is "hard to keep off the field." Sounds like love, except I'm not sure where there's room for Jackson to play considering the Steelers' illustrious corps of linebackers. Jackson played defensive end at Florida State, so he's going to need time to adjust to his new duties. Jackson could get a shot at rush end in the dime if Kendrell Bell can't handle it.

As a rookie, Jackson has the time. He's got the help, too.

Jackson speaks effusively, admiringly and at very high decibels about the advice he gets from Jason Gildon and Joey Porter. Give those two credit, especially Gildon. Jackson likely will take Gildon's starting job within a few years, and might do so thanks partially to knowledge gleaned from Gildon.

If Gildon deserves a pat on the back for being a team player, Logan deserves a gold medal.

Logan has been very giving when it comes to teaching Polamalu. Logan and Polamalu are competing for the same job right now, namely strong safety. You almost couldn't blame Logan if he let Polamalu fend for himself, but Logan is doing the right thing by the Steelers.

Not every athlete helps his potential successor in the name of the team.

Doug Flutie was notorious for giving his competition at quarterback the cold shoulder, especially in his career's waning years. When Baltimore signed quarterback Jeff Blake last season, he pointedly said that he wasn't there to tutor second-year pro Chris Redman. Super Steelers punter Bobby Walden wouldn't utter so much as one syllable to any of the booters annually brought in to test him at training camp.

Logan, Gildon and Porter deserve a salute. A pox on Alexander and whoever else might be miffed that Polamalu is making immediate impact.

Second-year safety Chris Hope likely is among those with his underwear in a bunch. I see Hope's point. After all, he has been paying his dues for a whole year.

The Steelers didn't trade up to draft Polamalu 16th overall so he could come in, ride the bench and learn at the feet of the fabled and storied Brent Alexander. The Steelers took Polamalu in the first round so he could come in and play. Just like Kendall Simmons and Antwaan Randle El last year. Just like Casey Hampton and Bell the year before that.

There's talk that Logan could switch to free safety, take Alexander's job and start alongside Polamalu. Here's hoping. That way, Logan and Alexander would both get what they deserve.

I'm for anything that shakes up the Steelers' moribund defensive secondary. Cornerback Dewayne Washington recently said that he feels he played well last season.

Yo, Dewayne: If you're going to take drugs, take performance-enhancing drugs. Hallucinogens don't help you tackle.

Meantime, no one should have a problem with Polamalu's shy, retiring ways. Jackson was on my radio show Thursday, and here's 'Zo on Polamalu: "Who he should be, is himself." Well put.

But not all is well in Steelers Nation. I was stunned and bewildered to hear that Plaxico Burress has decided to put football ahead of partying. It's like Broadway Joe taking off the fur coat. Catching balls more important than catching a buzz? Say it ain't so, Plax. Say it ain't so.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250)

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