By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers have the No. 1-ranked defense in the National Football League and also are No. 1 against the pass, but only one player from their defense was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Strong safety Troy Polamalu was chosen to the annual event for the seventh time in his career, the sixth as a starter, offered a reason for the slight.
“It probably has something to do with the fact that we didn’t make a lot of splash plays on defense this year or force a lot of turnovers, but I think we just played more like a blue-collar style of defense with not a lot of interceptions or sacks or things like that,” Polamalu said Wednesday after practice.
Polamalu added that there hasn’t been a philosophy change for the Steelers on defenseÂ this season, but there are many factors involved with the way the club has played defensively this season.
“When you can’t stop the run, like we had some issues doing earlier this season, you can’t make things one-dimensional,” Polamalu said. “When you can’t put many points on the board, teams are going to continue to run the ball. So, all those things are in play.”
Some believe that cornerback Ike Taylor, free safety Ryan Clark and defensive end Brett Keisel should have been more heavily considered. Clark was a second alternate, while Taylor and Keisel were third alternates. Keisel said he’s just glad the Steelers are in a position to make a playoff run again this season, and that team goal far outweighed any individual accomplishment.
“You’re talking about the No. 1 secondary, and he’s the No. 1 corner who always takes the No. 1 guy (receiver) on the other team,” Clark said. “So, every team we play against, he plays in press man all day. He does a great job, and he deserved to go to the Pro Bowl this season. I’m not trying to disregard the guys who made it or to make a comparison.
“But for Ike to play so well this season and for our defense to be ranked so high, it’s a shame that he didn’t make it. … He doesn’t miss practice, let alone a game, and he plays the No. 1 receiver for every team that we play. But I guess everybody can’t know how much we put on Ike. It’s like we say for him to go cover one guy, and the rest of the 10 of us will play football on the other side.”
Taylor appeared to be unconcerned that he wasn’t selected again this season.
“I didn’t get in there, so?” Taylor said. “But it doesn’t hurt. I guess I just have to go harder during the offseason. I don’t know if I deserved it, but that’s up to you all. It’s up to the media, the fans, the players and the coaches. But you can’t cry over spilled milk. I don’t know what I need to do to make it, but I obviously didn’t do enough this year.
“All I can do is work harder in the offseason and see what that does for next season. I’d say 2005 was my best season, and I would call this one my second-best. I’m not surprised for me, but probably more for my family than anything else, my homeboys and my teammates, rather than me. I never trusted the process. I just never did.”
Those Steelers who made the Pro Bowl included starters Maurkice Pouncey at center, wideout Mike Wallace and Polamalu. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and kick returner Antonio Brown are backups.
“I was surprised, but it’s exciting,” Polamalu said. “There’s a whole bunch of great guys out there, trying to reach the same goals in life, especially with football, and for me to get that is an honor.”
Pouncey was selected for a second straight season, the first as a starter, while Brown made it for the first time.
“I’m glad to be selected to the Pro Bowl, but I’d rather be practicing for the Super Bowl at that time,” Brown said. “We want to get back to where we were last year. It didn’t quite finish the way that we wanted, and that’s the biggest bowl of them all. So, I’d rather be nowhere else but the Super Bowl with my teammates. Prior to training camp, I had a meeting with Coach Tomlin.
“We talked before we went out to camp, and he told me I could be a Pro Bowl-caliber returner in the league. He said that’s what he expected nothing less from me this season. Now, I’ve had an opportunity to do that, and I’m very proud about that. So, I worked very hard this season as a return man and as a wide receiver, and I believe it all paid off for me.
“So, I’m very thankful to be selected to the Pro Bowl, because a lot of players don’t get that honor ever in their careers,” Brown added. “It’s a prestigious award, so to have it in my second year is pretty special. I think my all-around year was all weighed together, and that’s why I made the Pro Bowl.”
Wallace made his first Pro Bowl as well, while Roethlisberger was a two-time selection. He was extremely proud of his top two wideouts and center.
“I’m just really happy and proud of all those guys,” Roethlisberger said. “We’ve come to expect that from Pouncey now, but it’s also an honor to call Mike and Antonio Pro Bowlers. So, it’s an awesome thing for them, and it’s an honor for me to be able to call them Pro Bowlers and teammates.
It’s an honor for me, too, but I hope I don’t get to play in it. But it is an awesome honor. It’s an awesome honor to be picked by both your peers and the fans, so it’s a neat thing.”
Wallace believed he was an example of how hard work pays off in the end.
“I work hard every year, and I never take a day off,” Wallace said. “(And) I didn’t come in with all the expectations that some other guys did. I was just a guy, so from being just a guy to being a really good player can happen for anybody who works hard.”
The Steelers are sending multiple players to the Pro Bowl for the 11th straight season and the 20th time in the last 23 seasons. At least three Steelers have made the Pro Bowl every season since 2001.
Notes: The Steelers will announce the winners for their annual Chief Award, presented to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the media; The Joe Greene Award to their outstanding rookie, and the team MVP.