By Mark Kaboly
The Steelers are done talking about Troy Polamalu.
The rest of the league? That's another story.
Five times in the span of six days last week, Steelers team officials — from president Art Rooney II to general manager Kevin Colbert to coach Mike Tomlin — declined to speak about Polamalu's future, other than saying there's no timetable for when a decision needs to be made.
That didn't prevent NFL coaches from weighing in on Polamalu's likely departure from the Steelers, his possible retirement, and what he has meant to the league at last week's NFL meetings in Phoenix.
“One of the all-time greats, without question,” said Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan, who coached against Polamalu when he was with the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens. “The way he is, just how physical he is as a player and how passionate he is. Those are the things, when he decides to hang it up, fans are going to miss.”
The Steelers and Polamalu, who will turn 34 in April, are expected to part ways after 12 seasons.
When? No one knows. The Steelers are waiting to hear from Polamalu about whether he wants to continue to play elsewhere or retire.
While Polamalu's days with the Steelers appeared to be numbered, the league meetings provided a platform for coaches to pay homage to the certain future Hall of Famer — and one of the best safeties in NFL history.
Browns coach Mike Pettine was an assistant with the Ravens during the early part of Polamalu's career.
Pettine, who had to prepare for Polamalu 12 times while a Ravens' assistant, twice last year as Browns coach and one time each when he was defensive coordinator with the Jets and Buffalo Bills, was always impressed with Polamalu's style of play.
“He looked like he was undisciplined, but a lot of the decisions he made were very smart and intelligent,” Pettine said. “He always knew where the ball was going on the information he gathered, and he knew how to make plays. To me, that was his trademark.”
One of the biggest plays of Polamalu's career came against the Ravens. His interception of Joe Flacco late in the AFC championship game sent the Steelers to Super Bowl XLIII.
Then, late in the 2010 season and with the Steelers down 10-6 against the Ravens with three minutes left in a regular-season game, Polamalu's strip sack of Flacco led to a game-winning touchdown.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh still can't get that one out of his mind.
“You had to account for him at all times,” Harbaugh said. “We had times when we didn't account for him, and I was like, ‘He is wearing No. 43 and he has hair down to his shoulders. There's no way we should miss the guy, right? Block him. Block him, please.' ”
Polamalu, who started 142 of 158 career games, was the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He made eight Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pros four times.
Even though he hasn't made as many big plays recently as his speed deteriorated, Polamalu played every snap in 26 consecutive games until injuring his knee in November against the Ravens.
That run of consecutive games included a span during which Polamalu was asked to play a pseudo-linebacker role out of necessity.
“He is such an unusual guy and a unique player on how he moves around … his timing, it was as good as anybody's,” Ryan said. “That set him apart.”
Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, a former Steelers offensive coordinator, watched Polamalu every day in practice for four years. There wasn't a day he wasn't impressed with what he saw.
“He saw things on the football field that very few guys could see,” Whisenhunt said. “He processed things at a speed that was incredible. He had that explosive burst that he could get there and makes those plays. He had such a great feel for the game. Probably one of the best players I've been around from that standpoint.”
Harbaugh added: “I love Troy Polamalu, and every time I've talked to him he has been nothing but gracious. A wonderful guy and a great player. Wow, what a great player.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.
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