Foote will fill defense's big shoes
Defensive end Brett Keisel battles Willie Colon during afternoon workouts at training camp.
Troy Polamalu during afternoon workouts at training camp.
Linebacker Larry Foote runs down running back Chris Rainey during afternoon workouts.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stretches before afternoon workouts.
Share with others:
The Steelers parted ways with their long-time defensive captain, James Farrior, in the offseason, releasing him after 10 years as their inside linebacker and locker-room leader.
It has turned into a honeymoon for Farrior, who was married for the first time two weeks ago.
But maybe not so for the Steelers.
They have what they consider to be the best man, Larry Foote, to step into his role as the inside linebacker in their defense. Foote was Farrior's best friend on the team and has spent 10 of his 11 NFL seasons with the Steelers.
Still, the transition might not be that easy.
"I think we all under-appreciate James Farrior, what he's meant to the franchise," said linebackers coach Keith Butler, who joined the Steelers in 2003 when Farrior was in only his second season with the team. "In the 10 years he was here, he has always been kind of the face of the defense, because of the way he played the game.
"He was a tough, tough competitor. He loved to compete, loved to have fun with his guys, but he knew when to stop clowning around and start playing. His leadership is probably what's going to be missed more than anything."
Farrior was one of several long-time icons who were released after the 2011 season, along with defensive end Aaron Smith and the team's all-time receiving leader, Hines Ward. They were joined by nose tackle Chris Hoke and cornerbacks Bryant McFadden and William Gay, players who spent a combined 20 seasons with the Steelers.
Farrior was more than just the captain of one of the best defenses in the NFL. As the "buck" linebacker in their 3-4 alignment, he called all the defensive signals and was responsible for making sure the defensive linemen and outside linebackers were lined up correctly.
Now the job falls to Foote, his former roommate at training camp who spent five seasons lining next to Farrior as the starting "mack" linebacker.
"That's my new assignment, but I did it in the past and I know the importance of that position -- lining up the guys up front," Foote said. "So I know what it's going to take. The football part will take care of itself. But, in the heat of the games, it will be keeping your composure and doing the little things, and I haven't really been tested yet at that spot. But I'm looking forward to that."
The role isn't entirely new to Foote, who spent portions of the past two seasons splitting time with Farrior at the "buck" position. But it might not be a long-term one, either.
At 32, Foote is not Farrior's heir apparent as much as he is a stop-gap until the Steelers find one.
"Larry Foote is capable of filling the void in terms of leadership and playing," Butler said. "We have other players here who are going to be good football players. Will they be as good as James Farrior? James Farrior won two Super Bowls and played in three. It's tough to find guys who are good enough to do that.
"Will we miss him? Yes. We will miss him, no doubt about it. But we expect our guys to fill that void."
Lawrence Timmons, the first player Mike Tomlin drafted when he became head coach in 2007, could be the key.
His teammates and coaches keep predicting Pro Bowl stardom for this 6-foot-1, 234-pound linebacker, but it just hasn't happened. Injuries to him -- and other players -- have been part of the reason. Timmons was shuttled back and forth from inside to outside linebacker last season because of injuries to James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
Timmons started four games at outside linebacker, but there were at least two other games when he started inside and moved outside because of injuries.
After a season in which he led the team with 100 solo tackles and 149 total tackles in 2010, Timmons dropped to 91 tackles, 79 solo, in '11. In the four games he started at outside linebacker -- the prime pass-rush position -- Timmons did not register a sack. Not exactly Pro Bowl numbers.
But, in what might be a portent of things to come, the Steelers will move Timmons to the buck position and switch Foote to the mack position when they return to practice Tuesday. Butler said the move is not permanent and is designed to help Timmons learn the position and call the plays.
"It's an adjustment period," Foote said. "You can say in this league, teams change every year, but we've been fortunate enough to keep everyone around. We've been spoiled, the city of Pittsburgh has been spoiled, with those guys. As teammates, their personalities and friendships, what they brought off the field, is gone.
"You can't put guys on that platform. But with the camaraderie on the team and guys that are left who learned from them, you hope we can pass it on to the young guys and keep it going and make this place special."
First Published July 30, 2012 12:00 am