02-01-2006, 10:53 AM
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I thought this was a good read, here are some parts that stood out to me...
The Pittsburgh Steelers thought so highly of safety Troy Polamalu when he was coming out of college that they traded up 11 spots in the 2003 draft and selected him 16th overall. Then to protect their investment, they ostensibly had an assistant defensive backs coach serve as Polamalu's personal tutor.
Darren Perry sat next to Polamalu in almost every position meeting, answering questions and offering advice. He saw so much potential in the former USC star that he didn't want Polamalu to limit his expectations to being a talented run defender, so he pulled out tapes of Patriots Pro Bowl safety Rodney Harrison and used them as a how-to guide for the youngster.
Arguably no defender has reacted or played better than Polamalu this postseason. He was everywhere as the Steelers knocked off the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds to qualify for Super Bowl XL on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
It has become common for teammates, opponents, coaches and league observers to praise him as the game's ranking safety, if not its best defensive player. Raymond Berry went to the Hall of Fame as a wide receiver and took the Patriots to the Super Bowl as a coach. Now retired in the mountains of Tennessee, he still watches games and defenses through critical eyes, which made his comment regarding Polamalu more noteworthy.
?I think he's one of the best football players in the NFL,? Berry said recently. ?If I was looking to stock a defensive team, he'd be one of the first two or three guys I'd want to get. You can see it in his eyes. He has tremendous concentration and focus and intelligence. As a result he keeps showing up in the right place at the right time.?
As he created confusion and tormented the Bengals, Colts and Broncos in the first three rounds of the playoffs, the safety after whom Polamalu tries to pattern his game watched on television and nodded. Yes, Harrison said to himself and family and friends, this guy is special.
?Not only do I think he's the best safety in the game, but I believe he's the best defensive player in the game,? Harrison said this week by phone. ?Every single time I watch him ? and I've had a lot of time to watch this kid ? he dominates the game. You hear the announcers saying his name more than they say Chad Johnson's or Marvin Harrison's.
?At this point, there's no one playing better. I'm not impressed by a lot of football players, but I am by him. He's a dominating player. And humble. I love how he makes a play and gets up and goes back to the huddle. He's not trying to draw attention to himself. He reminds me of a defensive LaDainian Tomlinson.?
Harrison was not alone in his assessment; Broncos safety John Lynch echoed the sentiment earlier in the week. When the comments were relayed to Polamalu, the smile disappeared from his face.
?That's probably the most humbling statement I've heard, because I look up to those guys,? Polamalu said. ?In terms of football, they're my heroes.?
?He's unique,? Chargers tight end Antonio Gates said. ?If you watch their defense, you really have to key on him. You have to game plan him. That was deep to me, because I had never played a safety that we had to worry about, outside John Lynch. This guy, he's kind of got that John Lynch mentality that he can change the defense that much. He's a tremendous run-stopper, he's a tremendous blitzer; he's fast, he's physical, he has that long hair. He's out there like he's just mad at the world.
?When you're playing, you just have so much respect for him after you play him. You knew he was good on film, but he's even better in person. He can do it all.?
?If there's one safety I will try to emulate my game after, that would be Rodney Harrison,? he said. ?Not only because I have tremendous respect for him because he's a champion, but I believe he plays the game passionately.?
Said Harrison: ?At this point, no one plays defense better than Troy Polamalu. He's amazing.?