All’s well: Timmons is no Bell

Bob Labriola, a Pittsburgh native, has been editor of Steelers Digest since its inception in 1988. This page offers him an opportunity to provide additional insights into the Steelers, the NFL and the events that are making news.

It was April 28, 2007, and Mike Tomlin was sitting behind the microphone for the first time as the head coach of an NFL team that had just made its first-round draft choice.

“His football character is what we seek. He is a guy who loves the game,” said Tomlin just minutes after the Steelers made the pick. “He is very versatile. His skill set defies scheme, which is one of the things we have talked about. He is capable of playing off the line of scrimmage, capable of playing on the tight end. He has pass rush capabilities,
but he also has the R-H factor. He is a runner and hitter.”

Later, Tomlin added, “He has a quiet confidence about him. I mentioned the fact earlier that he was 20, but he presents himself as a mature person, particularly from a football
standpoint. He’s a very grounded young man.”

Those words hung over Lawrence Timmons during a rookie season where he managed to live up to few of them. Sure, there was potential, but that word has been the epitaph
for scores of other players who had preceded him into the NFL via the first round of a particular draft.

The skill set Tomlin had seen never had a real chance to surface because of a groin injury sustained on the first day of Timmons’ first minicamp, and the personality likely was masked by a frustration over not being able to practice with everyone else and thus not really feeling like a part of what was a new team in the first place.

But today those words sure make Tomlin seem prescient because the Lawrence Timmons the Steelers are seeing is the personification of the things said about him on the day he
was drafted.

Still, he makes mistakes — even in the game against the Bills in Toronto amid a handful of eye-popping plays — and if Timmons has the physical skills to be a starting inside
linebacker here he still is reaching for the level of understanding that gives coaches the trust to make a player a starter.

But please, no more comparisons to Kendrell Bell.

Those comparisons aren’t fair to Timmons, because while Bell pocketed Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2001 when he finished with 82 tackles and nine sacks for a 13-3 Steelers team that ranked No. 1 in the league in several defensive categories, Bell was a one-dimensional player who ultimately wasn’t good enough at that dimension to counter what opponents came to do to neutralize him.

Bell either couldn’t or wouldn’t learn the defense, and that effectively made him a predictable target for opposing blocking schemes.

Timmons already has shown enough understanding to be deployed in a variety of ways, and this versatility will allow coordinator Dick LeBeau to use him in ways that won’t easily be schemed from one game to the next.

But the one obvious similarity in the way Timmons is playing now and the way Bell played in 2001 is what NFL scouts call “being sudden.” In layman’s terms, it’s when you’re watching a game on television, and a player streaks across the screen and wreaks some kind of havoc before the eye can make out the number on the jersey.

Lawrence Timmons is sudden. He is not Kendrell Bell. And both of those should turn out to be good things for the Steelers.


During this endless Summer of Brett Favre, it came to light that the Green Bay Packers, in an effort to resolve the conflict, had offered their star quarterback a marketing deal worth $20 million over 10 years as a going-away present. The only caveat was that Favre had to promise to go away.

What a lovely parting gift, and former Steelers defensive back Jack Butler only can wish there could have been something similar in it for him when he retired after the 1959 season.

To be clear, Butler is one of the franchise’s greatest players of all time, a guy who deserves to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In nine seasons, he had 52
interceptions and returned four of those for touchdowns. He also played some offense, as was the norm at the time, and scored eight more touchdowns running and receiving.

He was voted to four Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro three times.

So, when Butler decided to hang ’em up, the Steelers wanted to thank him for his service and production. They bought him a car.

Nice gesture, except for this: Butler had to use the car he owned at the time as the trade-in for the new vehicle, and then he had to pay the applicable taxes for the transaction out of his own pocket.


The Steelers recently issued a press release concerning the time of their preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field. To accommodate the Democratic National
Convention, the release read “the kickoff was moved from 7:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.”

The local newspapers dutifully reported this change, and 10 minutes after it was posted on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s website, an angry reader, identifying himself as a Republican, fired off an e-mail accusing the Steelers of favoritism, of pandering to the Democrats.

Two things: Dan Rooney is and always has been a registered Republican, and the Republican National Convention is scheduled for Sept. 1-4, when there are no Steelers games scheduled to possibly conflict with the doings in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Relax, people.