No question, Farrior's the team leader

"The young guys should be watching his every move."


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Miami Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter got another sack yesterday against the Denver Broncos and -- at the ridiculously old age of 31 -- leads the NFL with 11 1/2. "I don't feel like I'm anywhere near done playing football," he growled. "Look at Potsie. He's my man. What is he? Thirty-three or 34? And he just got a new deal. He's still playing at a high level. A high, high level. Right there is inspiration for me."

You know Potsie, right?

Steelers linebacker James Farrior.

Porter couldn't pick a better role model.

Safety Troy Polamalu gets most of the attention on the Steelers' defense. Linebacker James Harrison is virtually unblockable; "A monster," Farrior calls him, with good reason. And defensive end Aaron Smith might be more indispensable.

But there is no more amazing player on the Steelers than Farrior.

Potsie!

For one thing, there's Farrior's durability. He plays at 225 pounds in an era when most inside linebackers go 250 or 260. That's Jack Lambert-like. Yet, Farrior hasn't had -- knock on wood -- any type of surgery. Since joining the Steelers as a free agent in 2002, he has missed just three games because of a couple of knee sprains and a fourth because former coach Bill Cowher kept him out of the meaningless regular-season finale in 2002 to get him ready for the playoffs. "I've got good genes, I guess," Farrior said, shrugging.

For another thing, there's Farrior's consistency. He hardly ever makes a mistake despite never leaving the field and playing in all of the Steelers' defensive packages. Farrior said he shouldn't make mistakes. This is his 12th NFL season and he's approaching his 34th birthday, Jan. 6, right around the time the Steelers hope to begin their playoff push. "The game gets easier when you understand what's going on," Farrior said. "It definitely slows down. When you can diagnose plays before they happen, you're going to play better."

For a third thing, there's Farrior's production. He is again leading the Steelers in tackles. This will be five times in six seasons if that holds up. "I think I'm playing my best football," Farrior said. "And, hopefully, my best is yet to come."

Tonight would be a great time for Farrior's best game. There's not much doubt what the Washington Redskins will try to do. "They're going to be feeding the ball to [Clinton] Portis all night," Farrior said.

The NFL's rushing leader.

"He's ran for 944 yards," Farrior said, knowing the figure by heart.

It's nice to think the Steelers will keep Portis from going over 1,000. If they do, their chances of winning will be excellent because they'll force quarterback Jason Campbell to beat them. It's true, Campbell hasn't thrown an interception all season, but he's not the same threat as Portis, who's averaging 118 rushing yards a game and 5 yards a carry, and has scored seven touchdowns.

"He's got all the running back skills, but his best attribute is his vision," Farrior said. "He's able to find the smallest crease and get through it when no one else can. Then, it's off to the races. ...

"We've got to be perfect with our technique and we can't be out of position. We all know that. We welcome the challenge. We love going against the best and seeing how we stack up."

Know this: Farrior will be in the middle of all of it. His teammates count on him more than any player. Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward might be offensive leaders, but Farrior is the team leader. No one is a close second.

That's why Farrior made it a point to speak with wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who was cited for marijuana possession before the New York Giants game last weekend and was deactivated by coach Mike Tomlin. It's no coincidence the Steelers lost, 21-14.

I'm thinking that little chat with Farrior might have done wonders for Holmes, who will start against the Redskins.

"I didn't have to say much," Farrior said. "I know 'Tone pretty well. He understands now how valuable he is to this team. He learned his lesson. He stood up like a man in front of us and gave his apology. I thought it was heart-felt. I was OK with it."

If Farrior was OK with it, all of the Steelers were OK with it. That's the kind of weight he carries in the locker room.

A lot more than 225 pounds, you might say.

That's another reason the Steelers signed Farrior to a five-year, $18.25 million contract in August. He didn't want to go anywhere. "No player wants to go somewhere and have to start over again. I like it here. I'm on a good team. I've got good players and good coaches around me."

Steelers management didn't want Farrior to go anywhere. His age wasn't a problem. Nor was the team's unsettled ownership issue. The Rooneys and Tomlin knew Farrior's value.

"James shows you: 'This is how we do it here. This is the right way,' " cornerback Deshea Townsend said.

"The young guys should be watching his every move," Polamalu said.

Farrior hopes to play at least two more seasons. There's no reason to doubt he'll make it even if his body aches a little more than it used to. "There are days I'm so sore I don't even want to get out of bed," he said.

Farrior grinned.

It was pretty easy to read his mind:

So what if tomorrow is one of those mornings? Who cares if Portis is feeling just a little worse?


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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