The Steelers welcomed some of their old linebackers to training camp this summer. There was Kevin Greene, Jason Gildon ... and James Farrior.
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The retired Greene and Gildon each spent a week to help coach. Farrior spent the entire time trying to help the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense in 2007 improve. At 33, he's the oldest starter on that defense and shows no signs that he is on the far side of his football career.
"My body feels good, I feel like I'm in great shape, and feel like I have a lot left in the tank," Farrior said as the defensive captain prepares to take his unit onto the field for the preseason game against the Buffalo Bills tonight in Toronto
He reported to camp several pounds lighter at 227 and ready to do the job he has done since his arrival as a free agent from the New York Jets in 2002. He plays every snap, calls out defenses to his teammates, and still makes the big plays and routine ones.
Last season, Farrior was second on the team with six sacks at a position that does not lend itself to many. It was a career high, two more than his previous career high of four in 2006. He also was second on the defense with 24 quarterback pressures in 2007. He has led them in tackles four of the past five seasons and led them with nine in the playoff loss to Jacksonville, when he also intercepted a pass.
The Steelers are experiencing a youth movement at linebacker with the infusion of second-year men
LaMarr Woodley on the outside and Lawrence Timmons pressing Larry Foote on the inside, but neither was placed at Farrior's spot.
"I think he plays better every year," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "I don't know if there's anyone else who can get us together like he can."
Each defense, for the first time under a new NFL rule this year, can select a player who will wear a helmet with a radio receiver in it to hear calls from the coaches. Defenses want that helmet to go to someone who stays on the field. The Steelers chose Farrior.
Slowing down in his 12th NFL season?
"I don't see it," said Foote, who has started next to him on the inside the past four seasons. "He's the old vet, he's somebody you come to, and every team needs a guy like that. He's a guy everybody looks to. He means a lot. Everybody likes him. He's a good fit for the team."
Farrior, entering his final contract year, figures he can play another four seasons and wants to retire with the Steelers. If they don't sign him to an extension before the season begins, he said he wants to re-sign with them before he can become a free agent.
He also believes the team's linebacking corps will be rejuvenated by the additions of Woodley, Timmons and rookie outside linebacker Bruce Davis.
"I love it," Farrior said. "Those guys give me a lot of energy and keep me motivated. They're young guys, learning the system, and they're doing good right now. They're going to help us out."
On Timmons, who is part of the nickel defense: "He's doing a great job. He can play any position, really, he can play all of them. He's an excellent athlete. It's just a matter of him learning the system. Once he gets it down, he's going to be good player.
On Woodley: "I'm looking forward to that one. LaMarr's doing real well in this training camp. It seems like he really understands it a lot better than he did last year. You can tell by his confidence and the way he plays."
And on James Harrison, who became team MVP and a Pro Bowler in his first season as a starter replacing Joey Porter: "We can do a whole lot of stuff with James. He's a monster.
"We have a good group. I love this group. It's one of our better groups. We might not have the big names that we used to have, but I think we work well together."
One big name remains: James Farrior.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .