By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
lienbacker James Farrior is entering his 14th NFL season.It might be too late to help quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who got himself into a jackpot in a VIP bathroom in a Milledgeville, Ga., college bar and is facing at least a four-game suspension to start the NFL season. It's also too late to help wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who had a variety of legal problems before he was traded to the New York Jets. But it's not too late to help Maurkice Pouncey. Jason Worilds. Emmanuel Sanders. Even the younger veterans on the Steelers.
"I try to tell those guys it's all about using their time better and making better decisions," linebacker James Farrior said at training camp this week. "Most of it is just common sense. You're a grown man. You know what to do and what not to do. You know what's going to get you in trouble. Stay away from it."
That's just like Farrior to try to turn Roethlisberger's and Holmes' mistakes into something positive for the Steelers. He's a terrific team leader, in the mold of Jerome Bettis before him. The football team might be coach Mike Tomlin's, but the locker room is Farrior's. When he speaks, the younger players listen. If they don't, they are fools.
That's why it's nice that Farrior is back for his 14th NFL season. He's not the same player he was five years ago. No player 35 is the same as he was when he was 30. Clearly, there were signs last season that Farrior's performance had started to slip. "I know I left plenty of plays on the field when I really could have helped the team," he said.
But Farrior isn't quite ready to write off his career. Nor am I willing to do it for him. It will be a surprise -- at least to me -- if he and Lawrence Timmons aren't the Steelers' starting inside linebackers again this season, although Larry Foote, back after a year with the Detroit Lions, certainly is in the mix.
"I feel like I made all the right steps to get better," Farrior said. He talked of working out during the offseason with teammates Foote, Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden and William Gay in the "hot-***" Orlando, Fla., sun with conditioning guru Tom Shaw. "I'm in the best shape I've been in in a while."
Farrior and Foote are best friends. "I'm glad that loud mouth is back," Farrior said, grinning. If the two are uncomfortable about competing for a job, they hide it well. "That's the great thing about this team," Farrior said. "McFadden and Gay worked out with us, and they never talked once about competing for a job. We're all in this together. I know the coaches are going to put the best players out there. If it's not me, I'll do whatever I have to do to get better."
The defense needs to be better, period. It gave up too many big plays last season and had too many breakdowns, losing five fourth-quarter leads. "Heart-breaking," Farrior called the collapses. "But we've got everybody back that we feel we can win a championship with. We're locked and loaded."
Farrior wasn't just talking about Foote and McFadden, who spent last season with the Arizona Cardinals. He, like everyone else who follows the Steelers, thinks it will be huge to get back a healthy Troy Polamalu at safety and a healthy Aaron Smith at defensive end.
"People ask me all the time how much difference Troy will make," Farrior said. "I tell them he's one of the greatest players I've ever played with. But the key to our defense is Aaron, more so than Troy. He's almost the perfect player. He never does anything bad out there. The coaches never yell at him."
Farrior grinned, again.
"They yell at me all the time."
We'll begin to find out how much Farrior has left and how good this defense will be when the preseason starts Aug.14. In the meantime, Farrior will continue to offer wise advice to his younger teammates.
Maybe even to one of his older ones.
"I'm sure I'll talk to Ben at some point during camp," Farrior said. "It won't be something I'll talk about out in the open. I don't think I have to say too much to him. He knows the situation. He just has to make better decisions."
Pouncey, Worilds, Sanders and the rest of the younger Steelers can learn so much not just by listening to what Farrior says, but by noticing the big price that Roethlisberger has paid for his indiscretions.
"It's like I tell them: 'You don't want to do anything to mess up the chance to make this kind of living,' " Farrior said.
"That usually sticks with them more than anything. When you start talking about their money, they sit up and pay attention."
Why shouldn't they?
That's a good message from a great team leader.
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