Do the Steelers really miss Joey Porter?
If you would have asked me that question (and many people have) during this past off-season and training camp I would answer you with a resounding “Yes” ! I would have told you that Porter was as important on the field as off, that his emotional leadership is not something we could afford to be without. You don’t just lose a player who has the respect of everyone in the locker room, including the coaches, and expect to not miss a beat.
Porter was and still is a fan favorite in Pittsburgh. Every since he was drafted he began to win the hearts of the fans and earn respect of his team mates. When he spoke, the entire team listened no matter what the topic of conversation. If the team needed an emotional boost, he was there to give it to them. He was the motivator, the guy to fire up the troops and get the competitive juices flowing before and during the game. The Supreme Sultan of Trash Talk, Porter was named the NFL’s meanest player by Sports Illustrated. He was the unquestioned go to guy when you had to have a play. His role during the run to Super Bowl XL was clear cut evidence that he owned that locker room.
Now, Porters infamous #55 is but a memory to the Steeler faithful, but that memory is not something any true Steeler fan will soon forget. To Porter fans, not having Joey on the field just doesn’t seem quite right but it’s reality and like anything else we need to move forward.
This year’s group of Linebackers has many question marks surrounding it. Can James Harrison step up, stay healthy, and be the force that the Steelers need? Can Clark Haggans rebound after a sub par showing in 2006? Did Farrior lose a step and is it time to search for his eventual replacement? Is Foote really able to step up and be counted on as a leader and someone who can make the big play when the Steelers need it? And what of the young draft picks, Timmons & Woodley; how long will it take for them to learn the defense and be able to contribute consistently. All these questions and more surround the 2007 crop of Steeler Linebackers.
Early indications are positive as the Linebackers are flying to the ball and making plays just like we’re accustomed to seeing. Harrison and Haggans are both making it a regular occurrence to meet at the Quarterback; Farrior and Foote are stopping the run making their presence felt in the backfield consistently so far too. Another good sign is seeing both Woodley and Timmons getting chances to play in the regular defense as well as special teams. Both of these players need every bit of game time experience they can get and from the get go they have both been proving their worth and showing us the potential they have. The 2006 defense only registered 39 sacks, so far the 2007 team already has 10 to the credit. The pass rush is strong and the run defense is showing that you can’t make a living running against the Steelers and expect to be successful.
It’s too early to tell how this group of Linebackers will fair for the team in 2007 overall, but if early indications are a telling tale of the future they should be a fun group to watch as they take their renewed intensity and updated game plan into battle each week. Dick Lebeau and Mike Tomlin have the tools at their disposal, now it’s time to see what they can do with this group and all the schemes that the coaches can come up with to maximize their success. The real test will come as the season wears on and the team is faced with more adversity and the Linebackers are asked to step up and make the plays that could make or break the game. When that time comes, and it will, we will then see what the 2007 Steeler Linebackers are really made of and if we will really end up missing Joey Porter.