Steelers' Foote content to take step back

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The Steelers' reunion tour continued over the weekend when James Farrior, Larry Foote, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans -- the starting linebacker unit in Super Bowl XL in Detroit -- were together again in Canton, Ohio, to witness Dick LeBeau's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

For Porter and Haggans, the reunion was short-lived. They flew in from Arizona to see LeBeau and former Steelers assistant Russ Grimm enshrined in the Hall of Fame. And they returned to Flagstaff, Az., to resume training camp with their new team, the Arizona Cardinals.

Foote?

He got to return to Latrobe to continue his reunion with the Steelers, the team he left for one miserable, lonely season.

"It's like I never left," Foote said. "It feels the same. I call last year a redshirt year."


Saturday

Preseason Game 1: Detroit Lions vs. Steelers, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Heinz Field.

TV: KDKA.


Foote, who started all 16 regular-season games for five consecutive seasons with the Steelers, was one of four former players who rejoined the team during the offseason.

He and wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, one of the heroes of Super Bowl XL, were re-signed in free agency. And cornerback Bryant McFadden and quarterback Byron Leftwich were brought back via draft-day trades.

"I'm kind of pinching myself; I couldn't believe it happened," Foote said Monday after the first of two practices at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. "Essentially, when I left, I thought I would never come back to Pittsburgh. Thank God it worked out the way it did. I have another opportunity to come back here and finish my career here."

Foote, who turned 30 in June, was signed to a three-year, $9.3 million contract that included a $1.8 million signing bonus -- a hefty amount for a player who was brought in to be a backup to James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons at inside linebacker.

Foote, though, is a proven run-stopper, and his absence last year was felt even more so when Timmons played most of the season on a bad ankle. What's more, he provides some flexibility in case of an injury at outside linebacker -- a scenario that would allow Timmons to move to the outside.

"It gives us insurance if someone gets hurt," linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "We know he can play the position and he's got good chemistry in there with Lawrence and James. I definitely feel better about it and I'm sure coach [Dick] LeBeau and Mike [Tomlin] feel better about the position."

The Steelers open their preseason Saturday night at Heinz Field, and the opponent is Foote's old team, the Detroit Lions.

After the Super Bowl-winning season in 2008, Foote asked to be released by the Steelers because he said he knew he would be replaced as the starter in 2009 by Timmons, a former No. 1 pick.

When the Steelers obliged, Foote signed a one-year, $900,000 contract to return to his native Detroit, not far from where he played college football at Michigan.

But after never playing for a losing team in college and the NFL, Foote had a hard time adjusting to a 2-14 season with the Lions.

"The losing stunk, but it was just the part that I was away from my guys and I was missing being here," Foote said. "When opportunity came to come back, I got to correct that. All the years and experience and relationships I built here, I wanted to get back to that.

"If I had a choice if can I finish my career where I created relationships, I'd pick this place."

Probably nobody was happier than Farrior, who joined the Steelers as a free-agent in 2002, the same year the Steelers drafted Foote in the fourth round.

They are inseparable, on and off the field, even though Foote was brought in as insurance in case Farrior, who turned 35 in January, would begin to wear down.

"That's one of the great things about Pittsburgh -- you build good relationships with the guys around you, the guys in the locker room, the coaches. It goes all the way up to the owners. I've seen a lot of guys leave here and they still have some kind of connection with Pittsburgh. Once you leave here and you've been here a while, you still have that Steeler in your heart."


Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com .


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