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Thread: Polamalu Redefining Safety Position

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    Default Polamalu Redefining Safety Position

    Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu redefining the safety position

    OWINGS MILLS, Md. – Baiting quarterbacks, bashing wide receivers and breaking records, Ed Reed(notes) and Troy Polamalu(notes) are regarded as a breed apart as the top safeties in the game.

    They patrol the secondary with natural instincts, flowing smoothly around the field with an innate reaction that traditionally lands them in the path of the football.

    It’s a position that demands intelligence and toughness.

    In the case of Reed and Polamalu, both aren’t afraid to gamble and neither has ever been accused of being conventional.

    “Very instinctive,” Baltimore Ravens veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason(notes) said. “Both of them study a lot of football. Obviously, football is all about feel and they feel the game. That’s why Ed is in places like, ‘Man, how did he get there?’”

    With an unorthodox bent and a grit that sets them apart, Reed and Polamalu are central figures in Saturday’s AFC divisional playoff game at Heinz Field between the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    For the Ravens, Reed led the NFL with eight interceptions despite missing the first six games of the regular season on the physically unable to perform list due to offseason hip surgery.

    No one has as many interceptions as Reed with 54 since the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year entered the league eight years ago, and no one has gained as many as his 1,438 interception return yards.

    And Polamalu led the Steelers with seven interceptions to rank second in the AFC, also registering 82 tackles.

    The common bond between the long-haired Polamalu, a former USC star, and Reed, a Louisiana native, is the big plays they routinely make.

    “I think just in their ability to read what’s happening to them so quickly,” tight end Todd Heap(notes) said. “When you see Polamalu out there, he’ll come out of coverage sometimes just to make a play, something that he feels, something that he sees. You think sometimes all of that is undisciplined, but most of the time he’s right.”

    Polamalu also essentially won a 13-10 game in Baltimore for the Steelers last month with his sack and forced fumble when he blindsided Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco(notes) to set up Ben Roethlisberger’s(notes) game-winning touchdown.

    Polamalu is a six-time Pro Bowl selection who has intercepted 26 career passes with 514 tackles and eight sacks.

    When there’s a play needed to be made, invariably Reed and Polamalu are in the thick of the action.

    “One thing I think about these two safeties is they have unbelievable hands,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “These are two guys that just have a great ability to catch the football, and that gives them a chance to make plays on the ball downfield.

    “They make great catches, so they get turnovers. They’re both hitters, they both are very instinctive, they both know the game inside and out, all those things that everybody talks about. “

    Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski(notes) grew up watching Reed and Polamalu, attempting to mirror their games as he developed into a prep standout in the Chicago area and into a third-round draft pick at Notre Dame.

    Zbikowski said it’s no accident that they make so many plays.

    “It’s the studying of film and a lot of it has to do with instincts,” Zbikowski said. “They understand situations, they understand when a defense need a play for momentum. They’re never standing around. They know how to disguise what they’re doing.

    “They’re complete football players . You don’t make big plays over and over again and it’s just luck. You’re in the right place at the right time because they’ve done it plenty of times. They’re safeties that are made to play the position that they play.

    Reed is playing this week after spending time with his grieving family after his younger brother dove into the Mississippi River to elude police. The search has been called off.

    He declined an interview request in the locker room this week.

    “He’s a man of character,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs(notes) said. “None of us have lost a relative that can understand what he’s going through, but all we got to do is try to be there for him, and keep his spirits up. He is hands down my defensive MVP.

    “What did he play in, 10 games? And he led the NFL in interceptions? That’s unheard of. That’s bananas. He’s a great guy. He’s a great teammate.”

    With Reed’s range and impactful style, he has built a reputation as one of the most dynamic defensive players in the NFL.

    He has scored 13 career touchdowns, including the playoffs, and is the only player in league history to return touchdowns off a punt return, blocked punt, interception and a fumble recovery.

    "Ed brings an element that very few players bring to the table," Harbaugh said. "He has really, really special hands and body control so he can make plays that most guys can't make. He covers more ground, too, but really, more than anything, he really understands the game, understands the defenses and understands the scheme he is up against."

    Polamalu is 8-2 in the playoffs.

    And he has 51 career tackles in the postseason with three interceptions, returning one Flacco pass 40 yards for a touchdown in the AFC championship game two years ago.

    The stockier Polamalu plays strong safety and operates as more of an enforcer near the line of scrimmage.

    And Reed, who has a slimmer build at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, tends to play more of a pure centerfielder role.

    He’s not as inclined to attack or blitz anymore because of a nagging nerve impingement in his neck that has plagued him for the last few years.

    “I don’t know if there’s that much of a difference,” Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis(notes) said. “They both prepare incredibly and they just love the game. And those are the two few safeties that actually turn the game into an offensive possession when they do have the ball in their hands.

    “I think that’s what makes both of those guys who they are, Ed and Troy. It’s an honor watching both of them play. It’s a real honor to sit back and watch, probably, two of the best safeties to ever play this game go at it.”

    It was Steelers wide receiver Hines who recently introduced a segment on Reed as one of the top 100 players.

    It’s the kind of mutual respect that comes from the kind of performances that Reed has put on since arriving in the NFL as a first-round draft pick from the University of Miami

    The seven-time Pro Bowl selection has 551 career tackles, five sacks, 11 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries.

    In eight playoff games, Reed has recorded 22 tackles, seven interceptionms and 11 pass deflections.

    “We've had our battles over the years,” Ward told Pittsburgh reporters. “He's hit me and I've hit him a couple times. It's always been very physical between both of us. At the end of the day, and I'm a little biased towards Troy, but he is by far, No. 1 or No. 2, the best safety in the league.

    "He's a game-changer, same thing with Troy," Ward said of Reed. "When you're playing good and you're a great player, great things just happen when you're around. Those guys just have a key knack for making plays when they need it the most, and he's right up there with Troy.”

    Polamalu has never intercepted a pass in the regular season against Baltimore, but made them pay in the playoffs two years ago.

    Reed has just one interception in eight games against Roethlisberger and that was during a 31-7 Baltimore victory on Dec. 24, 2006.

    It’s probably not a coincidence since both opposing offenses are wise enough to avoid these two defensive blue-chippers.

    Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only Ronnie Lott and Paul Krause have more games with at least two interceptions than Reed.

    “Those are two of the best safeties in the game right now, let alone probably to ever play the game,” Heap said. “They’re similar in some respects, and then they’re different in some respects.”
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    Default Re: Polamalu Redefining Safety Position

    I left out Ed Reed cause the only thing Reed has redefined is the alarming rate in which one can be injured and given credit for being more than he is.
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    Default Re: Polamalu Redefining Safety Position

    Troy is the ultimate player to ever play that position IMHO and that isn't just because I'm a Steeler fan......................or his

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    Default Re: Polamalu Redefining Safety Position

    A Defensive Anchor Walks a Spiritual Path

    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
    Troy Polamalu has won two Super Bowl titles with the Steelers. His team faces the Ravens on Saturday.

    Published: January 12, 2011

    PITTSBURGH — Steelers safety Troy Polamalu opened his red leather-bound playbook to a dog-eared page. “The life of a man hangs by a hair,” he began reading in a voice as soft as falling snow. “At every step our life hangs in the balance.”

    Troy Polamalu with his son Paisios at a Super Bowl victory parade in February 2009.
    It was three days before the Steelers’ A.F.C. divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, a matchup in which the Super Bowl aspirations of two worthy contenders hang in the balance, and Polamalu was getting himself centered.

    “How many millions of people woke up in the morning, never to see the evening?” Polamalu read. And then: “The life of a man is a dream. In a dream, one sees things that do not exist; he might see that he is crowned a king, but when he wakes up, he sees that in reality he is just a pauper.”

    The book in Polamalu’s hands, “Counsels From the Holy Mountain,” guides him in football and in life. It contains the letters and homilies of a Greek Orthodox monk, Elder Ephraim, whom Polamalu described as his spiritual doctor.

    Polamalu, 29, sought out the octogenarian monk, who resides in a monastery in southern Arizona, a few years ago, a meeting that led Polamalu to the place he described as “heaven on earth.” It is a summit of sorts. But not the Super Bowl, though Polamalu won two championship rings in his first seven seasons with the Steelers. Neither of those journeys shaped him as profoundly as the pilgrimage he made to Mount Athos, a Greek Orthodox spiritual center in Greece.

    While there, Polamalu said he witnessed humility and sacrifice in its deepest, purest forms and realized that for all their obvious differences, the spiritual path shared much with a Super Bowl journey.

    “Both require great discipline,” Polamalu said, “and a selflessness in the name of a greater good.”

    A pacifist whose tough play epitomizes his violent sport, Polamalu is the anchor of both the Pittsburgh defense and its locker room. In a vote this season of the players, Polamalu was voted the team’s most valuable player, becoming the first safety since Donnie Shell in 1980 to be so honored.

    “Obviously, in a lot of respects it’s a big deal,” Polamalu said, adding: “I’ve never been a fan of individual awards because football is such a team sport. There’s so many things that goes into making plays. It’s about teammates trusting one another and working together.”

    Asked whom he voted for, Polamalu said linebacker James Harrison. “Nobody does what he does,” Polamalu said.

    While Harrison, who amassed $100,000 in league fines this season for dangerous hits, appreciated Polamalu’s sentiments, he said, “Troy could be voted our M.V.P. every year.”

    In the Steelers’ 41-9 win at Cleveland on Jan. 2, which clinched a first-round playoff bye, Polamalu was back in the starting lineup after missing two games with an Achilles’ heel injury.

    It didn’t take him long to get his legs back. On the second play from scrimmage, Polamalu picked off a Colt McCoy pass for his seventh interception, tying a career high. On a goal-line play at the start of the second quarter, he leaped over the line of scrimmage and was in McCoy’s face before he had time to cock his throwing arm.

    The play was reminiscent of one in the second week at Tennessee that resulted in a Polamalu sack of Titans quarterback Kerry Collins.

    Dick LeBeau, the Steelers’ defensive coordinator, noted that Polamalu did not sack McCoy, who managed to get off a pass that fell incomplete.

    “We prefer that he not go that far off the diving board,” LeBeau said.

    Polamalu knows his freedom to roam has its limits. “When you do go a little bit off the map, you have to make sure you make the play,” he said. “If you don’t, it’s your fault.”

    The Steelers’ rubber match this week against Baltimore — the teams split their regular season games — features two of the league’s best defensive backs in Polamalu, a six-time Pro Bowl pick, and the Ravens’ Ed Reed, who had an N.F.L.-leading eight interceptions in 10 games.

    Both are deserving candidates of the league’s defensive player of the year award, though, naturally, that is not the way Polamalu sees it. “I think I’d rather go with him,” Polamalu said, “given that he’s played in five games and has like 22 interceptions.”

    The quotation was pure Polamalu. If he is overstating someone’s abilities, you know he’s not talking about himself.

    Against the Ravens in the 2009 A.F.C. championship game, Polamalu stepped in front of a Joe Flacco pass intended for Derrick Mason and returned the ball 40 yards for the score that gave the Steelers a cushion at 23-14. Players from both teams — Harrison and the Ravens’ Terrell Suggs quickly come to mind — have been vocal about how deep the rancor runs in this rivalry.

    Polamalu said: “I don’t feel that way. There are things that are deeper than football rivalries to me.”

    Polamalu was asked if he wished he could use his pulpit to address subjects other than football. “I’d rather not talk at all, to be honest with you,” he said.

    Much has been made of Polamalu’s dual persona. Receiver Hines Ward described him Wednesday as “Clark Kent who goes into his phone booth on Sundays and comes out Superman.”

    Off the field one sees the same dichotomy. Around the news media, Polamalu comes out of his shell and turns into the Jim Lehrer of the N.F.L. The least likely player to court the cameras is Polamalu, the Steelers’ most contemplative speaker.

    After the Cleveland game, Polamalu was the last player to leave the visiting locker room. He emptied the contents of his locker into a black knapsack, fingering some of the items as if seeing them for the first time.

    In the back of his locker was an 8-by-10 photo of Elder Ephraim with chin hair longer and fuller than the Rip Van Winkle beard that Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel has been growing all season. Polamalu slid the picture into a manila envelope, then carefully tucked it into his bag.

    He kissed the three-inch framed photos of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, then crossed himself, repeating the sequence several times before tucking them into his backpack.

    On his way out, Polamalu was stopped by a radio reporter. As a team official anxiously shouted into his cellphone, “Hold the Cranberry bus for Troy,” Polamalu serenely sat for a five-minute interview.

    “At times when we need a little guidance, he’s the guy we go to,” Harrison said, adding, “Troy’s a lot deeper than a lot of people who actually preach the word.”

    At the monastery in southern Arizona, the monks practice joyful mourning. Led by Polamalu, the Steelers engage daily in cheerful discomfort. They suffer together with the goal of celebrating as one on the first Sunday in February.

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