Steelers linebackers carving out identity
By John Harris
Saturday, October 4, 2008
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Steelers inside linebacker Larry Foote predicted last season that outside linebacker James Harrison would post double-digit sacks in his first year as a starter.
Although Harrison finished with a team-high 8 1/2 sacks in 2007, Foote isn't backing off his prediction.
"I might have been a year off," Foote recalled this week. "There were a lot of holding calls that stopped those double-digit sacks."
As for Harrison's debut season that resulted in his first Pro Bowl appearance, Foote had this to say as the Steelers prepared for Sunday night's game at Jacksonville:
"James Harrison started making his name as one of the best defensive players in the league. You see him evolving. He keeps getting better and better."
Foote could have been speaking about any of the Steelers starting linebackers, who rank among the NFL's finest.
There's Harrison, who has a team-high 5 1/2 sacks. And inside linebacker James Farrior, who again leads the team in tackles. And first-year starter and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who is second on the team with 3 1/2 sacks. And Foote, who's fifth on the team in tackles.
Second-year linebacker Lawrence Timmons plays on passing downs and recorded his first sack of the season against Baltimore.
"For what we do, I wouldn't ask for any other group of linebackers," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "Together, these guys are pretty special."
"The defense is playing up to the level we feel like we are capable of playing," Harrison said.
LeBeau likes the mix of veterans and youngsters, who blend football smarts with athleticism.
"We're really getting some good play from our younger players. LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons have made positive contributions every game," LeBeau said. "Then you've got Farrior and Foote inside, two solid veterans. James Harrison went to the Pro Bowl last year, and he continues to grow."
"Those guys are making great plays, and the plays that they're making are helping us win," Farrior said. "They've been doing it every week."
One of these days, LeBeau believes that Farrior, who has topped the Steelers in tackles in three of the past four seasons, will finally receive his due.
"James Farrior, as far as I'm concerned, never gets the credit he deserves," LeBeau said. "Day in and day out, he's one of the best linebackers in the league. He's our quarterback out there. He gets us in the right plays at the right time. A lot of what we do is because of his skills."
A close-knit group, Timmons credits Harrison with helping him record his first sack of the season against the Ravens in overtime.
"I was rushing the passer more this year. I was making little mistakes, and James has been helping me out," Timmons said. "After he did that, I eventually got one (sack). In my mind, we're just like a big group of brothers. We really help each other out."
John Harris can be reached at [email="firstname.lastname@example.org"]email@example.com[/email] or 412-481-5432.