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Steelers rookies settling in after whirlwind week

Associated Press Modified: May 4, 2012 at 5:32 pm •  Published: May 4, 2012

PITTSBURGH (AP) — 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 cell phone.

"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 offseason 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 defense, 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."

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