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Steelers Polamalu signs, set to compete against Logan for starting job

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Troy Polamalu's vacation ended yesterday, and the Steelers did not pay him $8.275 million to sit much longer.

Rookie Troy Polamalu gets some advice from veteran safety Mike Logan at training camp yesterday. (Doreena Balestreire/Post-Gazette)

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Polamalu, the 16th overall draft pick, missed just two training camp practices before he arrived at St. Vincent College early yesterday morning in a limousine from the airport after taking a sleepless red-eye flight from Los Angeles. He signed his five-year contract that pays him a $5.26 million bonus (some of it deferred) and made it to the afternoon practice.

Now, it's a matter of how long it takes for the safety from Southern California to move into the starting lineup.

"We'll ask a lot of him," assistant secondary coach Darren Perry said. "Hopefully, he can get in here and get a grasp of everything and go out there and show the type of player he's capable of being."

Perry knows what it's like to start as a rookie. He won the job at free safety in 1992 after the Steelers made him their eighth pick in the draft from Penn State. Two safeties ahead of Perry on the depth chart disappeared before he moved up -- Thomas Everett was traded after a holdout and Gary Jones' knee was injured.

Polamalu won't need that kind of help, but he will compete against veteran Mike Logan for the job at strong safety this summer. He stepped onto the practice field yesterday afternoon and put on pads for the first time with the Steelers. Polamalu was sidelined at the June minicamp with a hamstring strain, something that no longer bothers him.

Although he admitted he did not have a good first practice, it's one he eagerly anticipated.

"I was expecting to come actually last Sunday," said Polamalu, the only pure safety the Steelers drafted in the first round. "I was hoping contract negotiations would be over early.

"My bags had been packed for a couple weeks, and my stomach had been twisted. I haven't been able to get a good meal or anything because I was really anxious to get out here. It was finally nice to get that feeling over with."

Coach Bill Cowher wasn't concerned about the little time Polamalu did miss. The Steelers reported to camp Friday night and held their first practice on Sunday. Yesterday, they held two.

"It's not going to put him behind at all," Cowher said. "The kid missed one full practice and one morning practice; he'll be fine."

Polamalu, the first safety taken in the NFL, worried how his teammates might treat him after a short holdout.

"I didn't want the veterans to look down on me for not being here."

Instead, they congratulated him. His main competition, Logan, said he looked forward to seeing him practice.

"I watched a little bit of him in his college days. I want to see what he can get out here and do. In our defense, it's hard to learn on the fly and go out there and be technically sound, fundamentally sound and learn everything. There's going to be a lot thrown at him. He seems to be a real intelligent kid; I think he'll pick it up pretty good and be able to grasp it once he gets in the midst of camp."

There's a chance both Polamalu and Logan could start at safety.

Among the reasons the Steelers drafted Polamalu was to increase speed in their secondary. Logan, though, is one of their fastest defensive backs.

Once Polamalu gets his footing, it's possible the Steelers would start Logan at free safety instead of Brent Alexander, who has started there the past three seasons.

Alexander, 32, is a heady player who calls defenses and, at times, helps to put linebackers in position. His lack of speed, however, has been a liability in some coverages.

"If you're a good player, you'll be on the field whether it be as a starter, as a reserve, as a role player," Logan said. "That's determined right now, that's why we're here in camp; we're going to see who wins and loses their job. But there's definitely some open space in our secondary."

Logan, 28, enters his third season with the Steelers after he signed as an unrestricted free agent from Jacksonville. A McKeesport native who played at West Virginia, Logan has started just one of 30 games played with the Steelers. He started 11 games his final season with the Jaguars.

He has been a valuable member of their dime passing defense, but a knee injury that required surgery cut into his playing time last season.

"The biggest thing with Mike is to stay healthy," Perry said. "If we can keep him healthy, we know what he can do when he's out there on the field. Now it's just doing it over the long haul."

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3878.

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