Steelers' Foote stepping back into starting role
Linebacker Larry Foote will make his first start with the Steelers since 2009. An injury to James Harrison caused a shift in the Steelers linebacking corps.
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The previous time Larry Foote walked onto the field as a starter, he walked off a loser. That was in 2009, when he experienced 14 losses as a member of the Detroit Lions.
The most-recent time Foote walked onto the field a starter as a member of the Steelers, he walked off a Super Bowl champion.
The Steelers are hoping to recapture some of that old magic with Foote back in their starting lineup for the first time in 32 months when they play Tennessee Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
Foote, who has played nine of his 10 professional seasons with the Steelers, will start at inside linebacker in place of Lawrence Timmons, who is the new starting outside linebacker with James Harrison out of the lineup with a fractured orbital bone.
- Game: Titans (3-1) vs. Steelers (2-2).
- When: 1 p.m.
- Where: Heinz Field.
- TV: KDKA.
The Steelers re-signed Foote before last season for this very reason -- as an insurance policy for their high-priced linebacker corps. They went through their Super Bowl season last year without needing his services as a starter because the four linebackers stayed injury-free. Now they're counting on him to regain the form that earned him a starting job in this defense from 2004-08.
"Injuries are a part of the game," said Foote, a starter in Super Bowl XL and XLIII. "It's part of the reason the coaches brought me back, just in case anyone goes down. They knew we could move Timmons [to outside linebacker]. That's why they wanted me to come back. I'm just trying to get my feet wet again."
Foote left the Steelers after Super Bowl XLIII because he did not want to play in a reserve role. The Steelers had invested their '07 first-round draft pick in Timmons and moved him into the starting lineup in '09.
Foote departed for the Lions, who were 0-16 in 2008. Even though he was playing for his hometown team, Foote was not happy and jumped at the opportunity to sign again with the Steelers.
After playing mostly on special teams last season, Foote earned more time on defense this season as the coaching staff tried to spell aging starter James Farrior.
"I'm glad he's out there," said Farrior, who started alongside Foote from 2004-08. "I'm glad we have the opportunity to play together again. He's a good player. He's been around the league a long time. It will be good to have his big mouth back out there.
"I think more than anything else, he will bring energy to the field. He's a veteran leader. He's bringing leadership out there. Not that we're lacking leadership, but we just need a little bit more."
Foote enters the starting lineup as the Steelers are struggling. They are giving up 119.5 yards rushing per game, almost twice as much as last season.
Last week against Houston, the Steelers allowed an opening 19-play, 95-yard scoring drive to the Texans and a 42-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to Arian Foster, who finished with 155 yards rushing.
Foster was the second running back to rush for more than 100 yards against the Steelers in the first four games. Ray Rice of Baltimore rushed for 107 yards.
"Anytime you get an opportunity to play a significant amount of time in this league, it's big," said Foote, who was drafted out of Michigan in the fourth round in 2002. "I'm excited. I'm geeked up. It's always an honor to start in this league, especially for an organization like the Pittsburgh Steelers. And what a great time to start again. We're having problems against the run. As a linebacker, that excites you. We have a big challenge this week with the Titans."
Chris Johnson, the NFL rushing champion in 2009, is coming off a 101-yard performance in a victory against the Browns. It was his first 100-yard game of the season.
The Steelers have done a good job containing Johnson in past meetings, but they'll be lining up against him this time without Harrison and defensive linemen Aaron Smith (foot) and Casey Hampton (shoulder), who also have been ruled out.
The longer the Steelers struggle to shut down opposing offenses the louder those rumblings about the defense being old will become.
"They've been saying it the last five years," Foote said. "In other years we shut them up. It was much quieter during the season. This year, it's taking a little longer than the other years. There's a lot of football left. Starting this week, we're going to show them. We're just a little rusty. But no one cares about us talking about that. They want to see it."
Veteran offensive lineman Max Starks, who has three practices under his belt after being signed Tuesday, expects to be in the starting lineup against the Titans. Starks, who missed the second half of last season with a neck injury, would replace Jonathan Scott at left tackle.
Starks, who was released just before training camp, said he took the majority of repetitions in practice this week. Scott missed last week's game against Houston with an ankle injury, but participated in practices this week.
"I think it's been a good week," Starks said following Friday's practice. "I think I will have a shot of running with the [starters]. A game versus a practice is a little bit different, a little more energy. We'll monitor it as the game goes on, monitor snaps. We may do some things to make sure I'm fully acclimated, so I'm not getting thrown completely into the fire."
In addition to Smith and Hampton being ruled out, starting left guard Chris Kemoeatu (knee), reserve running back Mewelde Moore (ankle) and reserve linebacker Jason Worilds (quadriceps) will not play.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall (hamstring) is questionable as is reserve defensive back Cortez Allen (ankle). Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (foot) is listed as probable.
Doug Legursky will start at left guard for Kemoeatu. Ziggy Hood is expected to start in place of Smith at left defensive end. Brett Keisel, who is returning from a knee injury, will start at right defensive end. Chris Hoke or Steve McClendon will start in place of Hampton at nose tackle.
First Published October 8, 2011 12:00 am