December 23, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu (43) reacts after sacking Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Cincinnati Bengals won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Troy Polamalu: Final season for Steelers dynamo or a return to form?

Each year NFL teams turn to the draft to find their franchise savior. More often than not their first round pot of gold is a pot of silver, or worse in the case of the Browns. Seldom do teams hit their first pick perfectly, but occasionally they get lucky.

Such was the 2003 draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead of sitting tight at No. 22 and drafting the “best available,” the Steelers traded up to No. 16 and selected a seven-time future Pro Bowler. For 10 years, Troy Polamalu has been a human highlight reel and Pittsburgh’s overall best playmaker.

When he plays, opposing quarterbacks are forced to find ways to keep Polamalu in check. Their only true defense has been his injuries, as Polamalu has missed 30 games in his career.

Without him the Steelers have struggled, and never more than last season. Of their eight losses in 2012, five came when Polamalu stood on the sidelines in street clothes. A sixth loss was recorded in his first game back while he tried to get back to game speed.

So when the Steelers again moved up in a round to select a safety, the chatter began that fourth-rounder Shamarko Thomas from Syracuse would be Polamalu’s replacement.Not so fast. The great Polamalu may not be off to the Florida retirement community quite yet.

Just two seasons ago in 2011, Polamalu netted 91 tackles, the second most in his career. He played the entire season with a sore Achilles/calf from a lingering injury sustained the prior year. The injury finally completely imploded in the AFC wild-card game in Denver, ruining the Steelers’ chance to move on in the playoffs and, arguably, their chances for the 2012 playoffs.

Calf injuries are not an easy rehab. First the torn muscle fibers must heal and then slow process of restoration can occur. Scar tissue at site of the wound reduces the ability of the muscle to regain its flexibility, and increases the likelihood it will re-tear at the scar tissue. That’s why Polamalu has missed nine games in the past three seasons due to the same injury.

The best news out of organized team activities (OTAs) so far has been Polamalu’s confession that his rehab process is finally complete. From “The injuries are definitely a thing of the past. When you have an injury that has bothered you for four years, there gets to be so much scar tissue. If you don’t attack the problem of scar tissue, then you will continue to have problems.”

Here’s to hoping the Steelers’ problems were also rehabbed this offseason. In three months, they will be back on the field and healthy for another Super Bowl run, just like their franchise safety.

Tags: 2013 NFL Draft Pittsburgh Steelers Shamarko Thomas Troy Polamalu

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