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Dick LeBeau: Troy Polamalu will return to greatness

Troy Polamalu missed nine games with a calf injury in 2012 and 11 in 2009 with a knee injury. At 31 years old with 10 seasons in the NFL, is this the beginning of the end for the former defensive player of the year?

"He has a lot of tremendous football talent still in him," LeBeau told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Once he got back on the field, I couldn't see any difference in his play than when he was winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

"I know Troy will do everything he can to get himself physically ready to compete for a 16-game season. And we'll have to wait and see (if he can)."

Polamalu had an interception, a sack and 29 tackles in seven games. Cleveland Browns general manager Michael Lombardi said in October that Polamalu had reached the age of decline.

Whether that time is now or later, the Steelers have to start thinking about the future soon. That's not necessarily an easy thing to do for a franchise in the hunt every year with upper-echelon veterans. But James Harrison is 34 years old and dealt with injury issues last season. Safety Ryan Clark is 33. Defensive end Brett Keisel is 34. Casey Hampton is 35, but he's not expected to be back in 2013.

The Steelers drafted Ziggy Hood in 2009 and Cameron Heyward in 2011 with that aging line in mind, but they haven't shown much thus far.

LeBeau said the Steelers could have won the Super Bowl last year, but injuries held them back. Those are only going to become more prevalent as those guys get older.

Polamalu and Harrison could return to form in 2013, but there's no getting around the fact that the window with this group of veteran defenders is closing.

Follow Kareem Copeland on Twitter @kareemcopeland.

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