Lawrence Timmons' big disguise

Those who know Steelers' top pick warn not to be fooled by his moderate height and off-field demeanor

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To be sure, Lawrence Timmons did not inherit his height from his dad, a former 6-foot-8 basketball player at Duquesne University. Rather, he sheepishly admits his height -- slightly under 6-1 -- comes from his mom, who is 5-2.

He got something else from his mom, Audrey, too -- her quiet demeanor. At least, off the field.

But there is a little Troy Polamalu in Lawrence Timmons. He might be quiet and soft-spoken in the locker room, but, put him on the football field, and "he's going to hit someone in the face," said former high school teammate Justin Durant.

That's the way he was at Wilson High School in Florence, S.C., where Timmons was a tight end/linebacker. That's the way he was at Florida State, where he quickly developed into an outstanding outside linebacker despite just one season as a starter.

And that's the way he will be with the Steelers, who made Timmons, 20, the 15th overall selection in the NFL draft -- only the third time since 1970 the team has drafted a linebacker in the first round.

"No one deserves this more than Lawrence," said Kevin Hawkins, the athletic director at Wilson High School. "He remembers his school, his community. ... He's always talking to the young people here to do the right thing -- don't get involved with drugs and gangs."

Timmons' dad, Lindsley, was a former basketball player at Duquesne who played only one season with the Dukes (1976). His son might not have inherited his height, but he certainly received some of his athleticism.

And, despite his soft-spoken nature off the field, Timmons is anything but quiet on the football field. At least, in terms of performance.

"Attention is not something he seeks, nor is it something he wants," Florida State linebackers coach Kevin Steele said. "When he walks into the room, he's kind of invisible."

Perhaps. But not on the football field.

"He's an awesome kid ... explosive," said cornerback Bryant McFadden, who played at Florida State when Timmons was a freshman. "He plays very, very fast and he's athletic. He's a hard-nosed linebacker."

Timmons isn't the only player from Wilson to be drafted yesterday. Justin Durant, an inside linebacker from Hampton University, was taken in the second round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Like Timmons, Durant is undersized (6-07/8, 229), but is an explosive hitter.

"They are the same kind of guys," said high school principal Gerard Edwards. "They're humble and they're not flamboyant. The NFL is starting to look for character guys. These guys are character guys."

Durant was a year older than Timmons when they played together at Wilson. He played inside linebacker, Timmons played the outside.

"He's very laid-back, a quiet kind of guy," Durant said of Timmons last night. "But once he gets on that field he's all business."

The Steelers liked Timmons because they think he can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, as well as playing the position in a 4-3 front. He routinely dropped into coverage at Florida State, but he was so good at rushing the passer the Seminoles often lined him on the edge in their nickel defense.

Coach Mike Tomlin compared his athletic abilities to Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, a 10-time Pro Bowl selection who also played at Florida State. So did Nick Andrews, the Florida State defensive coordinator.

"He can blitz, he can rush, he can cover ... those are things you can't coach," Andrews said. "He's very much like Derrick Brooks in that regard. He doesn't blow you away with his numbers. But when they kick that football out there, he plays faster than most people."

If nothing else, Timmons has the right initials to excel at the position -- LT.

"He plays at one speed," McFadden said. "He's going to come get you. He did that at Florida State. He plays very, very fast, a lot faster than what his 40-speed is."

Timmons was timed at 4.66 in the 40-yard dash and was actually projected as a mid- to low-round selection in the draft because he was just over 6 feet, not 6-3 as he was listed by Florida State.

But the Steelers weren't even aware of the height disparity. Kevin Colbert, the team's director of football operations, said Timmons played "tall" at Florida State.

Timmons was rated as the best outside linebacker prospect in the draft and is expected to develop even more because he is just 20 years old.

Unlike their past three outside linebackers -- Jason Gildon, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans -- Timmons does not have to be converted from defensive end. He is natural outside linebacker who is strong at the point of attack and reads plays well.

But he is also very disruptive: He had five sacks and also scored three touchdowns, including two on special teams, something that also caught Tomlin's attention.

"He's very capable of that," McFadden said. "He goes in there with a nasty frame of mind, like most linebackers want to do."

Timmons started for only one season with the Seminoles. As a sophomore, he backed up Ernie Sims, who was the ninth overall selection by the Detroit Lions in the 2006 NFL draft.

Last season, in 13 games, he was second on the team with 79 tackles and ranked 11th in Division I-A with 18 tackles for loss. He also had five sacks, deflected six passes and blocked two kicks, including a 25-yard touchdown return with a blocked punt.

"You go strictly on numbers, you don't see the real Lawrence Timmons," Andrews said. "He's an outstanding football player. We don't just lose an outstanding linebacker, we lose a great special teams player, too."

"You go strictly on numbers, you don't see the real Lawrence Timmons."

Jerome T. Nakagawa, Miami Herald
Standout Florida State University linebacker Lawrence Timmons, center, celebrates with his mother, Audrey Timmons, second from right, girlfriend, Ashley Goldston, right, agent, Drew Rosenhaus, second from left, and Robert Bailey, left, after hearing his name called on television during the first round of the National Football League Draft yesterday in which he was selected by the Steelers. The group was monitoring results at a Miami Beach draft party.
Click photo for larger image.

Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1466.


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