Steelers Still Searching For Their Next Polamalu Two Years On

It was just a couple of years ago, but it seems so long ago. It was on April 10, 2015 that Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu announced that he would be retiring from the NFL following a career that spanned 12 seasons, two Super Bowl rings, eight Pro Bowls, and four nods to the first-team All-Pro list, with another on the second team. He finished the 2010 season as the Defensive Player of the Year.

It is quite simply a difficult thing to attempt to quantify what Polamalu meant to this defense, but the best way to explain it would be to watch the Steelers when he was on the field and then when he was out with one of his many injuries. His dynamic and at time unpredictable style of play allowed the team to run a defense that they couldn’t otherwise because they had him in the lineup.

It may be a bit obvious, but two years on, they don’t have him there anymore, nor do they have some other Polamalu on the field, a player who can deliver the sort of performances that he did time and time again that helped turn the tide of many a game over the course of more than a decade.

There are few players who have ever played the game who could make the case that they put together a more impressive highlight reel in the NFL than Polamalu. His knack for the timely and spectacular play is nearly without rival, but it was everything that he did in between those plays that allowed them to happen.

The former first-round pick is going to end up in the Hall of Fame someday, even if it takes a bit more than five years from his retirement. And whenever you have a player of that caliber leave the game, there simply is no replacing him, at least not in the sense of duplicating the performance that he delivered.

But the Steelers could sure use somebody like him, and while they have a pretty good group of safeties on hand, they don’t have anybody who has given indications at that position that they could develop into that sort of role.

Perhaps the player on defense that most resembles the kind of impact that Polamalu had not only on the defense’s performance and results, but the style of play that they were able to deliver, is fourth-year inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is coming off of his first Pro Bowl season.

This is certainly not a surprising answer, as he has drawn the comparison before—and many a misguided fan has suggested moving him to safety—but the case has only grown stronger this past season with the young veteran’s strides made in coverage, wrapping up the season with four interceptions, including the playoffs.

Unfortunately, he also bears a resemblance to the great one in the sense that he has a tendency to get dinged up relatively frequently. He needs to stay on the field more, and the Steelers need him to continue to develop into that dynamic and unpredictable piece that gives opposing offensive coordinators heart palpitations in the night.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Applebite

    Then that would lead directly to Jabril Peppers. He’s the closest they’ll find to Troy in this draft.

  • WreckIess

    Josh Jones makes a lot of sense for this role in round 2. Role player/chess piece who can play in the 2nd and 3rd levels. He can also come in and replace Will Gay in the slot in the big nickel. He’s only like 5 lbs lighter than Shazier was in his rookie year so he can play some ILB as well.

  • D.j. Hoy

    Troy was one of a kind. You can’t put someone else in there and expect the same or even similar results. I like Sean Davis, but they are two completely different players.

  • falconsaftey43

    There isn’t a Troy in the NFL right now, let alone on the Steelers. For as great as Earl Thomas and Tyraun Matheiu and some other safeties out there are, none of them come close to the timely play making and level of impact Troy had in his prime.

  • Brian Miller

    True, could Obi-Wan be that type of a player?!?

  • Voice O’ Reason

    I like Peppers a lot as a box safety/slot CB type who has flexibility to move all over the field. He has some limitations in deep coverage. However, people forget that Troy wasn’t the best in coverage for the second half of his career either, but he had the speed to make up for most coverage gaffes and was still phenomenal. Budda Baker is another one I’m keeping an eye on for that role. Undersized, but a great football player.

  • TroymanianDevil

    Searching for the next Troy is unrealistic, that’s an incredibly high bar. Troy was the most dynamic safety ever.

    Notice that I didn’t say best, only b/c there are some other all-time greats, obviously. Personally for me he is the best, but the case can be made for several. But the Steelers should take someone to fill that role that he played and that’s what I think is missing from the defense currently. That’s why I like Peppers or Obi at 30. You need an elite athlete to play that so each round of waiting results in slightly lesser athlete. Hence why I’d take that best hybrid S, barring a draft day apocalypse.

  • JAMESH

    The Steelers will never find their next Polamalu. It took nearly 80 years of Professional Football for the first one to come along.

  • VaDave

    Unfortunately the manufacture of Troy Palamalu stopped at one. You just can’t replace it. It’s time to move on, and find a play maker in his own right..

  • Ben Saluri

    Them and 28 or so other teams….

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    Man I wish we had troy in his prime playing in this defense with shazier but with that said there will never be another tp43 but Davis is going to be really good

  • Boots

    Troy was a once in a lifetime player! Saying we haven’t found another Troy is like saying the Lions haven’t found another Barry Sanders, its just not going to happen. We do need to take advantage of this draft though, and upgrade the overall talent level of the DB’s.

  • Brian Tollini

    I refuse to compare anyone in this draft or currently on the roster to Troy, because it simply isn’t fair. That being said, Budda Baker is the player in this draft that could really change this defense. His attitude, his play-making ability, his passion and energy. Sign me up.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I second this motion.

  • falconsaftey43

    The only guy that has a chance IMO is Jamal Adams. Hooker has a chance to be like Ed Reed. That said, I don’t expect either to ascend to those heights, but to still be All-Pro players.

    Obi isn’t that same type of player IMO. He’s more of a very solid all around safety in my eyes that does a lot of things very well, but I wouldn’t say he’s a “play maker” those type of guys are so rare.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I echo the comment by Wreckless down below…. If you watch tape of Josh Jones, add some Polamalu hair onto his back, you could be convinced you are watching some strange 2017 version of Troy. Of course, it’s not a fair representation to compare ANYONE to Troy. He had and did things that are unteachable. Last guy I can remember where he made my jaw hit the floor all the damn time. But for as much as some want to throw Josh Jones into just a box Safety role, I’d be a little leery to do so, and would advise people to do a bit of research.

    Beyond his ability to play all over the field, hit like a Mack truck, cover TE’s, he also had some pretty incredible measurables at the Combine. He put up 20 reps on the bench press. Which was 5th most. Showcased his speed with a 4.41.. 40-yard dash, the fastest time recorded from any Safety in this year’s class. Good size at almost 6’2, 220. Had a very nice 37.5, Vert. Added an impressive 11.0″ Broad Jump.

    I know I spent a LONG post yesterday making the case for Obi.. And I stand by that. But I like Josh Jones a TON too. These are the 2 Safety prospects that I’d LOVE to see as Steelers, among a few others I like in this really great looking class.

  • Steelers12

    there will never be another Polamalu

  • dany

    Just like by 2008 you still heard the steelers have not replaced Bettis, and it never happened either. You dont replace legends

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Alright, looks like I have to take the unpopular view again. I’m hearing all these comments like, “There will never be another Troy,” and, “We can never find someone like that again,” and that’s just not accurate.

    Coming out of USC, Troy was 5’10” 206 pounds and ran a 4.3 forty. That is definitely fast, but it’s not like nobody else can run that fast. Fabian Moreau is 6’0″ 206 and runs a 4.35 forty. Jalen Myrick is 5’10” 200 and runs a 4.28 forty. Physically, you CAN find another Troy.

    The thing that made Troy so special was that the Steelers catered their defense specifically to let Troy roam free. When you don’t have gap responsibilities you get to run wherever the ball goes. And thus you make more plays.

    That’s not saying anybody could do what Troy did. He had incredible instincts and very good hand eye coordination. But the thing that that made Troy one of the best ever was the Steelers system.

  • Alan Tman

    I loved Troy, and he was an awesome in the box safety when it was more a running league. Now you need Ed Reed type safeties, because it’s a passing league now.

  • Ryan Alderman

    In today’s NFL? Who played like Troy in ANY era?

  • Joecool328

    If I remember correctly, Pittsburgh traded up to 16th for Troy . . . If Troy was in this draft, what would you give up to get him? With as many needs as we have, I don’t know that I’d be willing to give away draft picks to trade up to the middle of the round on a solid player or a maybe.

  • Danny Young

    What do you consider a “need”
    I feel we are doing pretty well as far as starters. Obviously Harrison needs a replacement, but I wouldn’t say that’s a “need”

  • MC

    Well it wont be Peppers

  • tequila0341

    Respectfully, Troy wasn’t just another box safety. In his prime he affected the passing game as much as the running game. Brady and Manning both talked about how locating 43 was the absolute first thing they did when they came to the LOS – no matter where he was lined up.

  • Alan Tman

    That was because of the freedom he was afforded to freelance. When Troy made plays in the passing game it was film study and instincts. He was never known as a coverage guy. He was a freelance playmaking ball hawk. Film study and instincts make this type of player unique, so to say Peppers can be Troy is crazy. I don’t know if another player will ever be afforded that type of freedom in a Steeler defense again.

  • Alan Tman

    I think I would have tried to put Shazier at safety.