Friday, May 4, 2012
Steelers Polamalu welcomes rookie Ta'amu
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PITTSBURGH -- Alameda Ta'amu's "welcome to the NFL" moment didn't come when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected the massive nose tackle in the fourth round of last week's draft.
Instead it came a little later when All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu -- who like Ta'amu is of Samoan heritage -- buzzed the rookie's cellphone.
"When he called me, I didn't think it was really him," Ta'amu said with a laugh. "But then you know his voice from those Head & Shoulders commercials. I was talking to him and it was crazy."
Polamalu offered Ta'amu a sounding board and someone to lean on as he gets acclimated to life as a professional. As mentors go, Ta'amu could do a lot worse.
"We are brothers," Ta'amu said. "Just having him out here, and especially him calling me, makes me feel better out here."
The pep talk helped calm Ta'amu's nerves before he joined 39 other newcomers for the team's rookie minicamp this weekend. Sweat beading on his ample forehead, Ta'amu just smiled when asked what it's like to go from college kid to NFL player in six days.
"I was worried that I'd come here and start hitting and it would feel different," Ta'amu said. "I feel pretty good. I feel in football shape."
Ta'amu will need to stay there as the heir apparent to veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton, who is recovering from off-season knee surgery. It's uncertain when Hampton will return, meaning Ta'amu may need to be ready sooner rather than later.
That's fine by Ta'amu. Despite his relatively modest selection as the 109th overall pick, expectations are high. Nose tackle is a vital position in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defence, and Hampton has made a career of taking up as much space in the middle as possible.
The Steelers expect Ta'amu to do the same.
"I still feel like I was a second-, third-round pick," he said. "To be able to come out here and play behind Hampton, somebody who's a five-time Pro Bowler, is just crazy. He'll be a good teacher for me."
There are no real teachers at the ready for first-round pick David DeCastro. The All-American guard from Stanford will step in right away to help shore up a sometimes leaky offensive line.
It's a task DeCastro is eager to undertake. He acknowledged going through a bit of football withdrawal the last couple months as his former teammates went through spring drills.
The Steelers wasted little time putting him back to work, throwing him in at right guard during practice, which DeCastro described with a laugh as "running around in our underwear."
Maybe, but he certainly looked comfortable on the field. DeCastro chose to wear No. 66 with the Steelers, a number that is sure to resonate. Alan Faneca wore it while making the All-Pro team six times as a left guard for Pittsburgh from 1998-2007.
DeCastro downplayed the choice, saying it just seemed like a better fit than the other option, No. 61. Still, he's well aware of Faneca's legacy.
"He's one of those guys you definitely look up to while in high school and college, watching him play," he said. "I liked the number and want to play good. I got enough pressure on me already."
DeCastro's roommate -- second-round pick Mike Adams -- does not. The All-Big Ten offensive lineman at Ohio State will likely start his career as a reserve at either tackle spot, though he prefers to play on the left side.
It's where Adams lined up on his first day as a professional for the team that he adored as a kid. He grew up with a Jerome Bettis lamp and black and gold sheets in his bedroom.
"It's definitely a little bit surreal," Adams said. "But it's starting to become a real thing for me. ... It's just great to be a Pittsburgh Steeler."