Talk Football with Steelers Hall of Fame Security Troy Polamalu

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, right, chats with Fort Troy Polamalu in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans on Sunday, October 2, 2011 in Houston. (AP Photo / Eric Gay)

DF: As for Mike Tomlin, what makes him a great coach, and why has he lasted so long in a league where coaches are fired right and left?

TP: Coach Tomlin is a great leader of people, especially management… I think each generation has its unique and different personalities. I think Coach Tomlin is someone who is able to coach different generations. I think, more than anything, he has proven himself to be probably the coach of this generation which is one of the most difficult to manage. He is a great leader of men. I think his footballing IQ is probably the most underrated aspect of him. Other than that, he really loves football. I was fortunate not only to have a Hall of Fame coach in Bill Cowher, but I couldn’t say anything that he would be less than Coach Cowher. Coach Tomlin, to me, is also a great Hall of Fame coach. I had the chance to learn from both of them.

August 7, 2021; Canton, Ohio, United States; Pro Football Hall of Fame Centennial Class member Troy Polamalu, right, poses with presenter Dick LeBeau during the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony. (Ron Schwane / Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

DF: Speaking of IQ football, I spoke to you about 10 years ago at the Nike event in Oregon, the 7v7. You had some remarkable things to say about Dick LeBeau, who is obviously one of the best at. never have done that. The article is unfortunately lost somewhere on the Internet. So I wanted to ask you again, because you had some really amazing things to say about him… What made Coach LeBeau so remarkable as a defensive trailblazer and just a guy who really passed on like few people did. ‘did.

TP: Much of what I said about Coach Tomlin, you could also say about Coach LeBeau. I would also add that Coach LeBeau is a Hall of Fame football player and then been in the game longer, probably, than anyone other than an owner. His commitment to the game, his addition to the game as a player, as well as a coach, and really flooding the game on the defensive side of the ball, as a head coach. There’s really nothing he hasn’t accomplished in this game. The fact that he is one of the few and one of, perhaps, the only one who has really had the success that he has had at all levels.

DF: In you, he definitely had a unique player. I’m a Seattle guy, so I’ve covered the Seahawks since Pete came here. I remember talking to Pete about you and Earl Thomas a few years ago, and obviously Pete trained you at USC. I asked him how some players combine what feels like a total surrender with an absolute understanding of where you are on the pitch at all times. And Pete mentioned how rare it is and talked about your combination of those two things in particular and just staring at you for those years. How could you give it your all in a way that seemed totally crazy while still being in the right place at the right time? Because most of the guys who try to play like you, they’re going to come off the screen, and you haven’t.

TP: Football is an interesting game, I guess, in the sense that, especially as a defender, a lot of the thinking really happens in the first couple seconds of the game. After that, it’s really just kind of a chase. incessant ballooning. For me, I think one thing my brother has always told me, even from a young age, is that you can still control your effort towards the ball. In the simplest terms, to me, football is just a game of effort, and all it takes is real, unrelenting effort to chase the ball.

DF: You entered the league in 2003, which back then… today guys play 300 free snaps, 300 in the box, 300 slot. It wasn’t really common then, but you were kind of that guy from the start. In 2006, your third season, which is the first one Pro Football Focus drew at that time, you played 105 snaps on the line, 253 in the box, 264 in the slot, you played 16 in the outside corner. What has allowed you to perform in so many spots that you usually weren’t used to?

TP: One is Coach LeBeau, I think his confidence has allowed me to play in different positions. It was really a huge learning curve when Coach Cowher kind of forced me to learn all the different positions, from ten cents to five hundred. They’re just an extension of linebacker Will and Sam, plus a bit of linebacker in the subsets to play both from a safe position and even around the corner. So for me it was just about learning that, and I think what made Coach LeBeau a genius in a lot of ways is the fact that you can only move one person, and it really changes a lot of protection systems and the same blitz. So I can blitz in the same pattern as a wedge; I can blitz just like a linebacker. And, while it may be the same cover and the same blitz, changes and staff protections must change as well. For me that was the really cool thing that I was able to do by moving around and blitzing, but also covering to bring legitimacy to those positions as well. So that was fun.

DF: Let’s talk about your blitz. Interesting. PFF has 2006 as the last season you had snaps in the 105 defensive line this season to none from ’07 to ’14. Does this match up with how you remember things changed?

TP: Not really.

DF: This is why you are asking the questions. I’m like, is it really like zeros? OK.

TP: The reason it’s such an interesting thing is because like I said there are a lot of positions that I would have blitzed as a defensive lineman. I could say, “Hey Aaron Smith, take this model, and I’m going to change with your model in terms of the blitz. That way we can get the match and the protection we wanted. So for me that was the cool kind of little cat-and-mouse game that Coach LeBeau allowed me to play in protective schemes a bit. While maybe not initially lined up in this position, I could have ended up in this position, too, multiple times.

DF: I think they go with it, OK, at the snap, you were online. You weren’t advancing or anything. But it is funny.

I think you still own the Steeler game mark for the sacks by a security in 2005 with three from David Carr. What memories do you keep of this game?

TP: Man, that was awhile ago. I think it was in Houston. It was a huge racing offense and Arian Foster; I remember how great he was as a running back. He did some really awesome athletic moves in this game, and for me that was really the point of this game was to play against a great running attack and Arian Foster in particular.

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