LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Ask inside linebacker and co-captain James Farrior about the uneven performance of the Steelers defense last season, and he doesn't hesitate to point the finger of blame at himself.
"I left a lot of plays out on the field. There were some situations I could have played a lot better," Farrior said Monday following a three-hour workout at ESPN Wide World of Sports. "No matter what anybody says, we had a bad year. I didn't play as well as I wanted to play, and I know a lot of guys on the team felt the same way."
Finishing 9-7 a year after winning Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers missed the playoffs by one game, For Farrior, a player accustomed to an overabundance of success during 13 NFL seasons, not reaching the postseason was unacceptable.
Especially when Farrior didn't perform up to his normal lofty standards.
At 35 and the second-oldest player on the team (behind quarterback Charlie Batch), Farrior suggests he's getting better, not older. He also predicts a turnaround not only for himself, but for a defense that's anxious to reclaim its status among the league's most dominant units.
Farrior said media criticism regarding his individual performance — despite leading the team in tackles four consecutive seasons — has given him unexpected motivation.
"That adds fuel to the fire. That's one of the motivating factors for me — how bad we played last year. You're going to do everything in your power not to let that happen again," said Farrior, who is entering the third year of a five-year contract. "Whenever people doubt you, say negative stuff about you, as a competitor, you try to prove everybody wrong. It makes you want to work that much harder.
"I don't feel like the oldest guy on the team. Age is just a number. I don't want to put a time limit on anything. As long as my body feels healthy, as long as I'm mentally into it, I want to keep playing."
That's why Farrior, who calls defensive signals, was pushing himself under the watchful eye of speed and conditioning guru Tom Shaw only 11 days before the opening of training camp.
Based on yesterday's workout, Farrior didn't act his age. He didn't take extra water breaks in the stifling heat and humidity and went all-out in every drill.
"That's why I come down here with Tom. He knows how to get people in shape," Farrior said. "He treats everybody the same. We know when he gives us a drill, it's going to be very beneficial for us."
Farrior appears determined to bounce back from last season. He remains confident he hasn't lost a step and sees no reason why he shouldn't be on the field for passing downs.
Dating to 2001 in his final season with the New York Jets before joining the Steelers as a free agent, Farrior has started 140 of a possible 144 games. He hasn't missed a start since 2005.
"That's my goal, to be out there as much as I can," said Farrior, who made it clear he believes he's the best player for the position. "I never want to come off the field. As far as the coaching goes, that's up to them what they decide to do."
Even after all these years, Farrior still believes his game has room for improvement.
"If I didn't feel that way, I wouldn't be out here busting my butt every day. If I didn't think I could get better and help this team try to get to another championship, I would give it up," Farrior said. "I understand that I'm getting older and I'm not getting any faster or stronger, but as long as I can maintain that high level of play, I still want to play."