Tomlin believes Porter is replaceable
Monday, March 26, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PHOENIX -- No Joey Porter? No problem. The new man in charge has high hopes for the linebackers who will form the backbone of his new defense next season.
"We're going to get great outside linebacker play," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin predicted yesterday.
Some of the Steelers' best players on defense have played outside linebacker in the past generation since the team switched to a 3-4 defense from the old Steel Curtain days.
Players such as Mike Merriweather, Greg Lloyd, Chad Brown, Kevin Greene, Jason Gildon, Porter and others have dominated defensive play in Pittsburgh over two decades.
Tomlin does not see a reason why that should change after the Steelers released Porter, whose 60 sacks rank fourth on their career list.
"Can we identify who's going to be the playmaker at this point? No," Tomlin said. "Are we concerned about that? Really, no. That's the nature of football. Whoever we replace Joey with, the fans and the people who are concerned and have a stake in it will learn to love those guys and appreciate those guys for who they are. I know that's going to be a fact."
They already know the linebacker Tomlin expects to replace Porter.
"I have an idea of what I think James Harrison is capable of and I think it's going to be more than enough," Tomlin said of the Steelers' top backup on the outside the past three seasons.
Harrison, who was on the street when the Steelers signed him before the start of their 2004 training camp only because Clark Haggans had a broken hand, has done well as a backup and during his eight starts.
But can he play every down, every game?
"He'll answer those questions inside the white lines," Tomlin said. "I'm in Minnesota last year and everyone's talking about how miserable our linebacker corps was and how we had no chance to put together a solid defense because of our linebackers. And those guys went out there and played rock-solid football."
Tomlin, on the job for two months, said he loves the speculation surrounding not only who will succeed Porter at outside linebacker but all other debates about his team.
"I love those questions. It provides good talk this time of year, the speculation. It gives people something to worry about, and you appreciate that. You hope they enjoy it, but at the same time the wheels keep turning."
He said he wasn't surprised by the reaction -- some of it negative from his players -- to Porter's release, and the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker's subsequently signing a five-year contract in Miami that included a $12 million signing bonus.
"I've been a part of that since I've been in this league. What chair you sit in doesn't really matter. I've always mentally put myself in the chair that I sit in now.
"I've been part of some unique situations as an assistant coach. I was a part of the Jon Gruden/Keyshawn Johnson situation. I was a part of Warren Sapp leaving in free agency. I was a part of releasing John Lynch and things of that nature. "It's all a rerun to me, it really is, and the reactions that go with it. Yes, I'm the head coach now but it's nothing I haven't seen before. Change is part of this business, it's going to happen. Sometimes it's going to be more unpleasant than others, but it's the nature of what we do."