Ike Taylor knows the routine by heart: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
When Taylor joined the Steelers as a fourth-round draft pick in 2003, one of the first players to connect with him was fellow cornerback Deshea Townsend.
"As soon as I stepped off the plane, Deshea was there for me," said Taylor, who became a starter in his third NFL season. "We try to make the surroundings comfortable for everybody. We all look out for everybody. So I do it for Smitty (safety Anthony Smith), I do it for (cornerback William) Gay.
"When a rookie, a free agent or whoever (new) comes to the team, we know how tough it is to play in the secondary. We know if we don't play good, we get a lot of the blame. That comes with the territory, because we're the last line of defense."
Townsend was a fourth-round draft pick in 1998 who didn't become a full-time starter until his sixth season.
"A lot of guys had to wait their turn," he said. "By waiting your turn, it taught you how to be patient, how to be humble. They understand what it takes to be a good defense because somebody took them under their wing and showed the younger guys how it's supposed to be done."
Ranked No. 1 in the league in total defense for the second consecutive season, the Steelers feature a unique bond among their players. They seem to care about each other away from the field as much as they do on it.
Members of the Steelers' secondary can be found sitting together during games when the offense is on the field. Other times during games, they sometimes kneel together in prayer.
"I think it's probably one of the biggest reasons for our defense being so successful, that we have a close bond with each other," said inside linebacker and defensive captain James Farrior. "We all go out there with the attitude that we're going to play well for each other."
That's why inside linebacker Larry Foote doesn't mind giving pointers to Lawrence Timmons, even though they play the same position and there's a strong possibility that the younger Timmons will unseat him as the starter next season.
"Eventually you're going to be replaced, but the stuff you learn you've got to pass down," said Foote, a fourth-round draft pick in 2002 who became a starter in his third season. "I do that every day with Timmons. Give him some of my insights, give him some of my tricks the coaches don't really coach. That's the kind of person I am, and that's how the older guys here taught me."
Farrior was one of the "older" guys who signed with the Steelers as a free agent following five seasons with the New York Jets. He and the rookie Foote hit it off immediately.
"Farrior and I came in the same year, so we were both on the same learning curve," said Foote, who was welcomed to the team by linebackers Joey Porter and Jason Gildon.
Foote and Farrior agree it's no accident that the Steelers' defensive players are extremely close.
"You have an owner (chairman Dan Rooney) walking around here every day, who comes to practice almost every day, who talks to the players," Farrior said. "They say he's a lot like his dad (Art Rooney) was back in the day. When you've got a people person at the top, I think it all trickles down. I think you sort of adopt that personality."
Added Foote: "When it comes to bringing new guys in, the team looks at players' character and see how they get along and can they fit in."
Backup safety Tyrone Carter personifies that attitude. Replacing injured starter Ryan Clark, Carter recorded two interceptions in the final regular-season game against Cleveland, returning one for a touchdown in the Steelers' 31-0 win.
"There's a lot of unselfishness out here," Carter said. "There's a lot of guys that could be starting on other teams. Myself included, I feel.
"You look at the money situation. If we weren't close, guys would be bickering that they should be getting paid more money. You take it with a grain of salt and ROOT for the guys. That just shows how much love we have for each other."