Lawrence Timmons lines up to be leader for Steelers

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Lawrence Timmons skips to the front of the line to begin an agility drill on the Steelers' final day of organized team activities (OTAs). Standing before him are four tall, red tackle dummies; standing behind him in line is fellow inside linebacker and first-round pick Ryan Shazier.

Timmons hustles through the drill, gets back in line, and goes first yet again on the next set of reps. When the linebackers relocate for a new drill, Timmons again skips to the front, as he does for each of the drills thereafter.

Each time, Shazier goes second, a good place to be for a rookie looking to learn the ropes. In his eighth season, Timmons is making it a point to try to set an example for the team's youthful group of linebackers.

"Yeah, I'm the older guy now," Timmons said after practice. "I'm the type of guy that likes to lead by example. I like to let my work ethic speak for itself, just things of that nature like the way I go about practice, and show these guys how to do it."

In recent years there has been a clear changing of the guard in the Steelers' linebacker corps, and Timmons is the lone survivor. LaMarr Woodley, who was drafted one round behind Timmons in 2007, was released in March alongside veteran Larry Foote. Before their release, the Steelers let go James Harrison in March 2012 and James Farrior one year prior.

Suddenly, Timmons, 28, is the oldest and most experienced linebacker on the team. Watching his old teammates leave, he said, hasn't been easy.

"It's been real tough, but it's a profession and it's a part of the game," he said. "Sometimes you have guys leave, it's my eighth year right now so I've seen it quite a bit. You know what to expect."

As the old have been pushed out, a group of young, talented linebackers have been brought in to replace them. In the past three drafts, the Steelers have spent five picks on linebackers, including first-round picks on Shazier and Jarvis Jones.

Beyond Timmons, the two most experienced linebackers on the team are Jason Worilds and Arthur Moats, who was added in the offseason via free agency after spending his first four seasons in Buffalo. Moats and Worilds came into the league in 2010 and each started a career-high 11 games in 2013. Timmons, by comparison, has started at least 13 games every season since 2009.

In fact, Timmons has amassed more career tackles than the other 13 linebackers on the current roster combined. After leading the team with 86 tackles in 2013, Timmons' career mark sits at 435 -- the others have combined for just 254.

As a result, Timmons has been vocal on the field in practice, not just showing the younger players how it's done but also helping direct their assignments and positioning. He has embraced the role of mentor, he said, and players have come to him when they seek guidance.

"Yeah, a lot of guys, especially the young guys," he said. "I try to do anything I can for them -- on the field, off the field, anything."

The Steelers' full group of linebackers has yet to practice together this offseason. Worilds, who figures to start on the outside, has been out since the first day of OTAs with a calf injury and Jordan Zumwalt, the Steelers' sixth-round selection in the draft, had to miss all of OTAs due to a late graduation date at UCLA.

Still, Timmons praises what he has seen from those who have participated, claiming the first and second teams are right on par with one another as they battle for starting spots. For the young players, they'll continue to balance that battle with learning the playbook.

"Everything's going well," Timmons said. "The younger guys playing right now are trying to figure out the system, but we're just getting started right now trying to build a foundation and get some reps under their belts."

Those reps are important considering the roles that young players such as Jones and Shazier are expected to play not only this year, but in the future.

Timmons, meanwhile, hopes to lead them while working toward his usual personal goals.

"I just want to be great," he said. "I want to stand out, be a great leader for this defense, and I'm just trying to leave it all out on the field."

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