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Steelers bring 'edge' to practice

The SportsXchange

The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't used to this. They've gathered in the spring more times to celebrate Super Bowl victories in the White House than they have talking about a chip on their shoulders for a losing season.

At 8-8, they technically didn't have a losing season in 2012; it just felt like that. The last time they dipped that low in the records occurred during Bill Cowher's last season as their coach, in 2006.

Pittsburgh finished third in the AFC North behind the Baltimore Ravens, who won the Super Bowl, and the Cincinnati Bengals, who won 13-10 in the 15th game to beat the Steelers out of a wildcard spot.

"There's a little more of an edge," Troy Polamalu said Tuesday, after he and his teammates went through their first OTA practice.

Or, as veteran linebacker Larry Foote put it, "We're pissed off we didn't make the playoffs. On top of that, our rival won the Super Bowl. I know guys are taking it personally. It's just a whole different mindset to the offseason. I know guys are ready to get back where we need to be."

Virtually everyone eligible showed up for the team's first OTA, including Polamalu, who has made a habit of blowing off these voluntary practice sessions. However, he played only seven games last season because of a calf injury, and is working to avoid the same kind of problem in 2013.

Injuries were a big part of the 8-8 record, as they ate into the playing time and performances of some of their top players, including Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley, Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, Ike Taylor, Rashard Mendenhall and virtually every starter in the offensive line. Steelers starters lost 77 games to injuries last season.

"We have to look at those things and make sure we are doing the best we can," Steelers president Art Rooney II said earlier this year about all those injuries. The other thing we have to do is to make sure our players are aware that under the rules we are all operating under now, it's more on them to make sure they are performing and doing their offseason conditioning.

"We only have access to them for nine weeks, which isn't that many weeks in the overall scheme of things. It's incumbent on the individual players to be more aware of that. I think they are. Most of our players now go to one of those off-site training programs and participate in those things, at least for some part of the offseason. There is a lot that goes into it. We will look at everything we have under our control. Some of the individual players have to take it upon themselves."

Polamalu, for one, took that to heart. He said his right calf that caused him to miss nine games last season has bothered him for the past four years. He blamed it on scar tissue, and took a different approach this offseason.

"If you don't attack the problem of scar tissue, then you're just going to continue to have problems," he said. "So this year, I've really focused on that, found a great physical therapist, obviously continued to work with my trainer. So everything has evolved there and evolved nicely."

NOTES, QUOTES

---The Steelers hired one of their former players, Chidi Iwuoma, as their BLESTO scout. Iwuoma played mostly on special teams from 2002-06. Mike Butler, hired two weeks ago as their BLESTO scout, will now work as one of their area college scouts.

---The Steelers started out with Marcus Gilbert at left tackle and Mike Adams at right tackle. That would seem to suit each of their strengths, but Mike Tomlin said during the draft that he'll let their play dictate who belongs on which side.

---Tight end Heath Miller and linebacker Sean Spence, both recovering from 2012 knee injuries, didn't participate in practice. Miller attended and walked without a limp or a brace. Spence isn't expected to play in 2013.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Football in shorts." -- Mike Tomlin's response when asked to evaluate the spring's first practice Tuesday.
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