Special teams captain awaits homecoming
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Last April, upon its public unveiling, Keyaron Fox was a mite juiced.
The NFL's merry band of schedule-makers presented him a homecoming in late November: a return trip to Kansas City, where he was drafted five years ago, and Arrowhead Stadium, where he began his Sundays journey.
Then he scanned the Chiefs' roster, coaching staff and front office.
We aren't in Kansas City anymore, Toto.
Neither are many folks whom this Steelers linebacker and special teams captain knows and remembers.
"To be honest, at the beginning of the season, when I saw them on the schedule, I was looking forward to it," Fox said of tomorrow's 1 p.m. matchup between his visiting Steelers (6-3) and his former Chiefs (2-7). "When I got to looking and saw the personnel that's around, there aren't too many people from the organization as a whole that I know. They went through a house-cleaning, and there are only a few players left.
"It will be different for me walking down through the tunnel and being in the visiting locker room, though."
After 40 Chiefs games and four starts -- for an injured Derrick Johnson who remains one of five former teammates still there and three who play regularly -- Fox signed with the Steelers as a free agent in 2008.
He finished second, behind the since-departed Anthony Madison now of Indianapolis, with a career-high 21 tackles and a fumble recovery on a New England return Nov. 30. He added four special teams tackles in the playoffs. He finished with a Super Bowl ring, this after toiling for four Chiefs teams with a combined 30-34 mark.
"They're pretty good fans," Fox said of the sea-of-red crowd inside Arrowhead, where he arrived as a 6-foot-3, 235-pound, Georgia Tech linebacker drafted in the third round, 93rd overall. "They supported me while I was there. I don't think there are going to be any boos or anything, hopefully."
Interestingly, there has been discontent and growling among the populace surrounding his current team.
The Steelers' kickoff unit yielded a crucial touchdown Sunday in that 18-12 loss to visiting Cincinnati. It was the third kickoff return for a touchdown allowed in the past four games by Fox and Co. -- all at home. It caused something of a tirade by coach Mike Tomlin at halftime last weekend: This must change.
"We've been getting hammered on here lately," Fox said solemnly yesterday about a unit that was No. 1 last season, upon his arrival, but has fallen thus far this year to fourth worst in the NFL at 25.9 yards per return while allowing the most touchdowns. "We've given up three big returns. [We] put our defense in some bad situations [and] our offense as well. We've got to definitely tighten up on our end."
The Steelers earlier this week released longtime special teams player Arnold Harrison, who once started a couple of games in place of an injured Joey Porter, and signed Donovan Woods off the practice squad. Then they altered one person on the kickoff coverage. Other than that, this captain said, "We didn't change too much of anything. ... We're just going to take another crack at it."
Fox was the only Steelers cover man to lay a hand on Cincinnati's Bernard Scott, while being blocked down at the Bengals' 20, until Willie Gay made an unsuccessful dive at the Steelers' 5.
"On that play? The one he ran back? Everybody, we all had a shot at him," Fox said. "We just got to beat blocks, get down the field and cover." He didn't want to belabor it. "Just move on to the next play. Learn from your mistakes, that's all."
"It's a team game," added fellow linebacker and special teams player Andre Frazier, whose 13 special teams tackles rank second on the Steelers only to Fox's 16 -- or one of less than every five on kick coverage. "We're all out there fighting and battling. We know we contributed to the loss. That's not a good feeling."
Frazier and Fox wage their own competition. After each game, they take note of the special teams tackles board. "He's leading right now," Frazier said. "But I'm going to catch him real quick.
"He's a good special teams player, just a good player in general," Frazier added of Fox, who started for an ailing Lawrence Timmons against Tennessee, Chicago and Minnesota, chipping in the 82-yard interception return that sealed the victory against the then-undefeated Vikings. "He even surprised me. When he was out there, he was exciting to watch."
That was simply an extension of Fox's special teams play.
"You can tell just by watching film what guys give good effort," Frazier said of those units. "Guys I really respect, who give good effort. Keyaron has always been one of those guys."
• Game: Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m.
• TV: KDKA.
First Published November 21, 2009 12:00 am