By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Safety Troy Polamalu returned to the ring that was the Steelers' indoor practice field yesterday and compared himself to a boxer.
"Whenever boxers or ultimate fighters come back from getting knocked out, they have a 50-fight career, you know? So it's really no big deal."
Polamalu practiced with his teammates yesterday and said he felt fine and ready to return to the lineup Sunday in Cleveland after he left the victory against New Orleans early with what he said was his fifth concussion since high school.
Doctors, he said, cleared him to play, and he is ready to do that as soon as coach Bill Cowher gives him the OK.
"I feel good, good enough to go ... I can play today. The decision's not up to me, though. I passed all the tests and did everything I could do. I feel as good or better than I did with my three-quarter bye week that I had."
Polamalu played through a shoulder injury that occurred in the season's first game and affected him through the fourth game, a week after the Steelers' Oct. 1 open date.
He came to the Steelers as their first-round draft choice in 2003 with a history of concussions -- one, he said, in high school and three at Southern California. The Steelers gave him a neurological exam before they drafted him. He has worn a Revolution helmet, designed to further protect a player's head, since he has been in the pros.
Polamalu, as he did during interviews while at Southern California, made light of his concussions, waving them away as "no big deal" and saying he does not worry about future effects.
"I haven't had that many. There's a lot of players who go through long careers having more, so it's not a big deal."
He said he was joking when he told a reporter in 2002 that wearing his long hair outside of his helmet does not provide the kind of cushion for his head that he had when he wore it up.
Polamalu has made the Pro Bowl each of his past two seasons as the team's starting strong safety. He brings a unique style of play to the position, one in which he lines up just about anywhere on the field and can wind up on the other half of the field at the snap of the ball.
"No doubt, he's a special talent," said Tyrone Carter, who replaced Polamalu in the first quarter against the Saints. "You can't duplicate him, I can't try to play like him, I can't try to be like him.
"Troy's one of a kind, man. I just feel fortunate enough to be on the team with him and learn from him, too. Losing him would be big."
What does he mean to the Steelers' defense?
"Everything," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "Probably more than everything. Is there a word that's more than everything? That's what Troy means.
"He completely controls the secondary, and a lot of our schemes and things are based off him. He means everything. Troy's just really a special player, and he has a way of getting sideline to sideline faster than anyone I've ever seen and can cover more ground than anyone I've ever seen."
His three interceptions lead the Steelers and his five tackles for losses tie him for the team lead.
The Steelers drafted him to counteract teams in their division who had good receiving tight ends, such as Todd Heap in Baltimore. The Cleveland Browns drafted Kellen Winslow in 2004. Strong safeties often cover tight ends more than any other defender.
Because of injuries, this will be the first time Winslow will play against Polamalu and the Steelers. He leads the Browns with 56 receptions, third in the NFL and first among tight ends.
"He's an excellent tight end, probably the most athletic in the NFL," Polamalu said. "We're going to have our hands full with him -- if I play."