LATROBE – The stars come out under the lights, and the new Steelers star at Latrobe Stadium on Friday night was former first-round pick Lawrence Timmons.
The young inside linebacker made his presence felt in the physical backs-on-backers blitz pickup drill, in which he looked – and sounded – like the best player on the field. It could be a matter of weeks before he displaces Larry Foote in the starting lineup.
“I’m feeling good,” said the 22-year-old from Florence, South Carolina. “I’m just playing defense, trying to get better and have a good time.”
Is Timmons feeling more comfortable than he did as a rookie last year?
“It’s the same stuff,” he said. “Football’s football. I’m just trying to make plays, that’s all.”
Timmons is already in the lineup on passing downs, where he’ll take half the snaps at the mack inside linebacker position. Now he needs to prove he can sift through the trash and find the ball carrier on run downs. At this point, his athletic ability is obvious.
“Lawrence is a guy on the come,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “We challenge him to be at his best. I really think that he’s embracing that challenge. He’s a talented guy as you guys can see, but he’s not a finished product by any means. But he does have an attitude to come out here and get better every time we work.”
Timmons is part of a young linebacking corps that appears to have three stars in the making. Last year’s second-round pick LaMarr Woodley has been one of the best defenders this week at camp. He’ll replace Clark Haggans outside, and the Steelers’ braintrust can’t wait to see him in action. Woodley is stronger, faster and smarter than a year ago. “He’s got a whole new body since he was at Michigan,” said one personnel man.
Also, Timmons is knocking on the door of the starting lineup, and last night another young linebacker had his best practice yet.
“Number 5-3, Bruce Davis, man he’s coming along,” said volunteer linebacker coach Kevin Greene. “He’s sticking his face into people. That’s always a good sign when you have a linebacker, an outside linebacker, sticking their face into somebody, getting their hands inside. That’s a good sign. I like 94 (Timmons), too. I like 56 (Woodley). I like 92 (James Harrison).”
Greene, who holds the all-time sacks record for linebackers, was part of the Steelers’ Blitzburgh defenses of the 1990s. He was asked if this is potentially the best Steelers linebacking corps since he played.
“It’s pretty good,” Greene said. “I hate to do any kind of predicting, but this defense I think is going to be special.”
Tomlin, of course, drafted Timmons, Woodley, and Davis, who excelled last night in one-on-one drills against fellow rookie Tony Hills.
Tomlin’s also the coach who put Harrison in the starting lineup. What does he think of his revamped corps?
“I think we’re building some depth,” Tomlin said. “We’ve got some young guys that have to step up and understand the speed of the professional game and what we require them to do. But we’ve got the makings of a good, solid unit with some depth, but some young guys have got to come on.”
Another of the impressive young linebackers, sixth-round pick Mike Humpal, missed the practice with a hamstring injury. Also out were safety Anthony Smith (groin), center Sean Mahan (back) and receiver Santonio Holmes (death in family). Tomlin also said that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a slight hamstring pull during practice, but that didn’t diminish Tomlin’s enthusiasm.
“This takes you back to your high school days,” he said of the practice in front of 12,000. “I think the guys really enjoyed it. Some guys like Kyle (Clement, rookie from Northwood), this is the biggest crowd he’s ever played in front of. You give those guys a hard time, but it was a good evening.”