Steelers' linebackers still see themselves as team leaders
LATROBE, Pa. - Joey Porter is proud to take his place on the field as a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Porter, an eight-year veteran, sees himself and his fellow linebackers as the heart and soul of a defense that is coming off a Super Bowl championship and has ranked at or near the top of the NFL consistently this decade.
But that same mentality has been prevalent throughout the Steelers organization for a long time - well before the group of Porter, Larry Foote, James Farrior and Clark Haggans took over the positions.
The linebacker mystique was so prevalent, Porter saw it as a youngster growing up in Southern California and when he was playing at Colorado State in the 1990s.
"You knew that coming in, that the Steelers' linebackers were the face of the defense," said Porter, who was drafted by Pittsburgh in the third round of the 1999 draft. "Even with stars like (1990's All-Pro defensive backs) Carnell Lake and Rod Woodson, you still always heard about Greg Lloyd, Levon Kirkland and Chad Brown, and even way back with (Hall of Famers Jack) Lambert and (Jack) Ham... it's the mystique.
"All those guys played and were always the main focal point of the defense. They created high expectations with the defense and with the linebacker position."
Farrior, in his 11th year, agreed. He grew up in Virginia, played his college ball at the University of Virginia and was with the New York Jets for five seasons before signing with Pittsburgh as a free agent in 2002.
Since then, he has blossomed into a player that was voted team MVP in 2004, when the Steelers went 15-1. He was named to the Pro Bowl and AP All-Pro team.
"The way I have been seeing it since I was a little kid growing up watching the Steelers play, they have always been known for linebackers," Farrior said. "(Head coach Bill Cowher) is a linebacker guy. There's a lot of tradition at the linebacker position with the Steleers. We're just trying to uphold that."
And this current group appears to be doing that.
From right to left, Porter, Foote, Farrior and Haggans are entering their third season together as starters - no small feat in the free agency era. And in their two previous seasons together, the Steelers have ranked first and fourth, respectively, in total defense and first and third in rushing defense.
While Pittsburgh has made changes along the defensive line and secondary in recent seasons, the linebacking corps has remained relatively constant. The organization gave the linebackers a vote of confidence by not selecting one in the April draft.
"That gives us a lot of continuity, being around so long together," Farrior said. "We try to be leaders out there on defense, and we take pride in that. We feel like we're the best players out there on the field. We need to be out there making plays, helping our team win."