View Full Version : Men in the middle: Steelers middle linebackers vital to success

06-07-2011, 07:43 PM

Farrior and Timmons: The men in the middle

James Farrior, the tough, savvy, unquestioned leader of the Steelers defense is still getting it done and the Steelers are a better team because of it. Since entering the league in 1997,after being drafted by the New York Jets, he has done nothing but show up and do his job year in and year out. He's been a staple at middle linebacker for the Steelers since former head coach Bill Cowher brought him to the team in 2002. In his 14 year career he has amassed 938 tackles, 402 assists, for an average of 120 tackles per year. He's also got 11 INT's and 1 TD on his resume. He's the quiet type, relatively speaking, when you consider the company that he is in with other Steeler linebackers of his era and decades past. That doesn't diminish his impact however, James has full command of the defense on the field and all the players look to him for leadership. While he may not be the vocal, emotional leader on the field, he is the ultimate father figure and veteran presence that is crucial to a great defense.

Lawrence Timmons, the young former 1st round draft pick, has assumed command of his post opposite Farrior and has quickly become a driving force for Blitzburgh. Timmons was drafted out of Florida State in 2007, a year the Steelers spent 2 premium picks on linebackers to help bolster the unit (Lamarr Woodley was also taken out of Michigan in round 2). Timmons spent his first year mostly watching after nagging injuries in the offseason leading up to his first campaign continued to sideline him. He used that time to learn the defense and prepare for a role he would eventually assume. Lawrence started getting more playing time in 2008 and 2009, and it was apparent that he used his time wisely. His best statistical year was in 2010 where he racked up 95 tackles, 39 assits, and 2 interceptions. Leading up to the start of the season, Timmons made it clear to the media and fans that this was going to be his breakout year; a statement he certainly backed up. He has the unique blend of power, speed, and quickness so much so that defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau began using him in a similar role as all pro safety Troy Polamalu. You'll find this amazing athlete dropping back in coverage on running backs and tight ends, as well as stuffing the run and rushing the passer.

Herein lies the potential problem. Farrior isn't getting any younger, already 14 years in the league and Timmons will be an unrestricted free agent in 2012 unless the Steelers franchise him or work out a deal before he hits the market. Do they consider spending another premium draft pick on a linebacker to replace Potsie, or do they pin their hopes on a player like Sylvester who has shown promise but is still a bit of an unknown? One would think that the latter would be the more obvious solution. Consider also that James Harrison does have experience playing inside and could slide into that position at some point if it were necessary on a temporary basis. For the time being there is also the option of veteran Larry Foote who is currently the primary backup in the middle and could be a stop gap solution should the need arise.

If Timmons does hit the free agent market, they'll have little chance to match the offers he will get from potential suitors. Now, being the midst of the current lockout here in the offseason in 2011, things could change before Timmons every gets the chance to entertain other offers. Lamarr Woodley currently owns a franchise tag to the tune of a 10 million dollar, 1 year price tag. The Steelers can free up some of that money by redoing his contract into a long term deal. Something they are most certainly looking to do. In the mean time however, the possibility still exists that the middle of the vaunted blitzburgh defense could be in trouble entering 2012.

Head coach Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have been taking steps to sure up the linebacking corp ever since Tomlin arrived on the team in 2007. Besides drafting Timmons and Woodley they've also spent additional picks on potential stars Jason Worilds (OLB, 2nd Round, 2010 draft) and Steveson Sylvester (MLB, 5th round, 2010 Draft). Let's not forget the big money that they paid out to James Harrison, securing his services was a vital move that has paid off greatly. Many fans feel that Sylvester is the heir apparent when Farrior retires and Timmons assumes his role in the middle. Jason Worilds has shown some great pass rush potential in his first year, and with more experience he could be the next great pass rushing specialist on the outside.

There are many questions to be answered about how free agency will pan out in 2011 and beyond. Will there be a salary cap, how much will it be, how much time will teams have to try and sign players before the 2011 season starts, will there even be a 2011 season? For now the men in the middle are here, but suffice it to say it will be an area of major concern in the next 2 years.