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Steelers Training Camp Preview: Linebackers

July 26, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency, Players

July 25, 2009
By Donald Starver

This is part 2 in a series.  In part 1 of our Pittsburgh Steelers 2009 Training Camp Preview, we took a look at the defensive line.  We looked at all of the defensive linemen who will be in camp, and gave our picks of who would make the final roster.

In this installment, we are going to take a look at one of the most important positions in Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 defense; the linebackers.

This may be a blasphemous thing to say, but the Steelers’ 2008 linebackers may have been the best in team history.  My apologies to Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Andy Russell, Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland, Mike Merriweather, Jason Gildon, and Joey Porter.  They were all great in their time with the Steelers.  But in what they did both collectively and individually, the 2008 linebackers reigns supreme.

As good as the 2008 linebackers were, the 2009 version may be even better.  Larry Foote is gone, and his starting position will be filled by the younger, faster Lawrence Timmons.  Pro Bowler James Farrior remains ageless,  Lamar Woodley is an emerging superstar, and James Harrison is NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  Did I mention that these guys are pretty good?

So, how do you improve upon perfection?  The answer is, “you don’t”.  As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  That’s pretty much the approach that the Steelers took this off-season.  They didn’t draft any linebackers this year, and they only signed 2 undrafted free agent linebackers.  They’re pretty much going with the same guys they had last year.  Probably not a bad strategy.

In the two years that Mike Tomlin has been coach of the Steelers, he has always carried 9 linebackers on the roster.  Therefore, it is pretty likely that he is going to come out of training camp with 9 linebackers.  Let’s see if we can figure out who they’re going to be.

James Harrison - What more can we say about James Harrison?  101 tackles.  16 sacks.  NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  Could have easily been MVP of the Super Bowl after his 100 yard interception return.  I don’t think anyone is taking his job.  Do you?


LaMarr Woodley - In his second season in the NFL, and his first as a starter, LaMarr Woodley blossomed into an emerging star.  Not many first-time starters get 11.5 sacks.  But that is exactly what LaMarr Woodley did.  Yeah, I think his job is safe too.

James Farrior - Another Pro Bowl season for the ageless wonder.  Aside from being the defensive captain, he had an amazing 133 tackles.  Other players get older.  Farrior gets better.  I think it’s safe to say that he is going to make the team.

Lawrence Timmons - It isn’t very often that a substitute player records more tackles and more sacks than the starter that he is substituting for.    But that’s exactly what Lawrence Timmons did last year.  He recorded 65 tackles versus Larry Foote’s 63, and 5 sacks versus 1.5 for Foote.  Timmons should record even better numbers as a starter.  Yup, his roster spot is safe too.


Keyaron Fox - Fox was a special teams ace last season.  With Mike Tomlin’s emphasis on special teams, that is enough to assure Fox’s roster spot.  But with Lawrence Timmons becoming a starter, Fox will also emerge as the top substitute at inside linebacker.

Patrick Bailey - Another special teams ace, Bailey beat out Rashard Mendenhall, Bruce Davis, Limas Sweed, Tony Hills, and the rest of the 2008 rookies for Rookie of the Year honors.  That accomplishment alone should secure his roster spot.

Bruce Davis - I was a big fan of Bruce Davis when he came out of UCLA.  Unfortunately, he was slow making the transition from defensive end to linebacker.  Moreover, he didn’t show a passion for special teams, and made almost no impact there either.  He is a big, strong kid who really is very good at getting to the passer.  If he can show the Steelers’ coaches the player that I saw in college, he could emerge as the top back-up at outside linebacker.  I think his roster spot is safe.

Andre Frazier - The biggest of the Steelers inside linebackers, he has yet to truly distinguish himself as a playmaker.  He should be able to hold onto his roster spot, because other players are a bit more vulnerable.  However, it would be great to see Frazier make his presence known this season.

Arnold Harrison - After injuring his ACL, Harrison ended the season on injured reserve.  It is unclear how well his recovery from ACL surgery will go.  He is probably the most vulnerable of last year’s linebackers due to the injury.  Additionally, he is primarily an outside linebacker where he will have lots of competition.  I don’t expect Harrison to make the team.

Donovan Woods - The second year player was activated a few times last year due to injury.  But for the most part, we got to see very little of him.  He will be helped by the fact that he is primarily an inside linebacker, where there is less competition.

Tom Korte - The odds of a 5’11″ linebacker from tiny Hillsdale college making the roster of the reigning world champions are infinitesimal.  Sure, James Harrison is essentially the same height as Korte, but Harrison is from the planet Krypton.  Keep as many training camp souvenirs as you can Tom.  Otherwise your friends will never believe that, for a brief time, you were a Pittsburgh Steeler.

Andrew Schantz - I have never seen the rookie from Portland State play.  However, Portland State is a quality program that has placed a linebacker in the NFL each of the past 2 years.  Schantz was the MVP of the Portland State squad, as well as second team All-Big Sky Conference.  If he plays well in camp, particularly on special teams, Schantz could battle  Donovan Woods, and Arnold Harrison for the final roster spot among the linebackers.

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Keyaron Fox to host event in Atlanta

July 17, 2009 By: Admin Category: Players

Everyone knows that the Pittsburgh Steelers are champions on the field.  What many don’t know is how many of the players are champions off the field.  One of those players is linebacker and special teams ace Keyaron Fox.

Fox has launched the Keyaron Fox Foundation with the goal of facilitating fundraising efforts to impact inner city parks and recreational initiatives, youth recreational leagues, and intramural organizations.  Fox hopes to increase awareness of the need for additional funds to maintain parks & recreational property and equipment.  Fox wants to make sure that the next generation of kids has the same opportunities to play sports that he had.

“With all the attention that winning the Super Bowl has brought in this past year, I could not think of a better time to launch the Keyaron Fox Foundation and begin to start raising awareness of the funding needs of our local parks and recreational facilities.  These parks and recreational facilities are touching the youth in our communities 365 days a year”, said Fox.

Fox, who was born and raised in Atlanta and attended college at Georgia Tech, chose his hometown to host his first event.

Keyaron fox2

On July 25, 2009, Fox will host the “Will of Steel” community day at Atlanta’s Welcome All Park.  The event will feature the “Iron and Steel” sports athletic clinic, followed by the “Keyaron Cares” family fun day.

The “Iron and Steel” sports athletic clinic will feature NFL players like current Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Ward and Arnold Harrison, and former Steeler Anthony Smith.  Other NFL players who will be present include Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions, Tashard Choice of the Dallas Cowboys, Takeo Spikes of the San Francisco 49ers, Darryl Smith of the Jacksonville Jaguars, James Butler of the St. Louis Rams, Gerris Wilkerson of the New York Giants, and Deon Grant of the Seattle Seahawks.

The “Keyaron Cares” family fun day will include interactive games, vendors, animals, live performances, autograph signings by professional athletes and recording artists, a special And-1 street ball and dunk exhibition, health screenings and much more.

The event is free of charge.  For more information about the event, or to register your 8-13 year old boy or girl for the athletic clinic,  please go to  The deadline for registration for the athletic clinic is July 20, 2009.

Besides working on his foundation, Fox is also looking forward to the upcoming season with the world champion Pittsburgh Steelers.  “Last year was an amazing year for our organization.  I’m very excited that they brought me back to compete for another championship with this great organization.  Black and Gold is a beautiful thing, and I will proudly wear those colors again this season”.

“The whole team worked so hard last year, and I know that we’ve all been training and really trying to keep that chip on our shoulders going into training camp and next season, myself included.  You always want to do better than the previous season, personally and as a team”.

Well Keyaron, I’m sure that Steeler Nation appreciates your desire to do even better than the team did last year.  However, I don’t think you have to put so much pressure on yourself.  Merely doing AS WELL as you did last year and winning another Super Bowl will probably make most fans happy.  See, no pressure.

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If I were Steelers’ GM Kevin Colbert (Part 2)

February 10, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

February 10, 2009
By Donald Starver

Note: This is the second installment in a three-part series.  If you haven’t already read the first part, please click here.

After dealing with the offensive linemen, Bryant McFadden, and Nate Washington, the next position that Kevin Colbert is going to have to turn his attention to is backup quarterback.  Both Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch are unrestricted free agents.  The Steelers will still have Dennis Dixon under contract, but they probably won’t feel comfortable placing the Steelers’ season on his inexperienced shoulders if Big Ben gets hurt.  Thus, resigning either Leftwich or Batch is going to be imperative.

At this point in their careers, there is no doubt that Byron Leftwich is the better quarterback.  However, Leftwich is only one year older than Ben Roethlisberger, and he thinks he still has a future as a starter in the NFL.  He knows that he won’t get to compete for that position with the Steelers, so he will probably choose to go elsewhere.

Charlie Batch, on the other hand, is from the Pittsburgh area, and he would like to spend the rest of his career with the Steelers.  He understand that he has the ideal job.  He gets to collect Super Bowl rings with the team that he grew up cheering for, make more money than most people can even dream of making, and rarely have to even get his jersey dirty.  Not a bad deal for a 34 year old quarterback.  Unlike Byron Leftwich, Batch knows that his days as a starter are over, and he will do whatever it takes to stay with the Steelers.  He’s going to tell his agent to get this deal done.

So next year, I’d expect to enter the season with Ben as the starter, Batch as the backup, and the Steelers will probably bring in an undrafted free agent or a 6th or 7th round draft pick to compete with Dennis Dixon for the third string quarterback position.

The final unrestricted free agent that the Steelers will have to take care of is Keyaron Fox.  Fox will probably never be a starting linebacker for the Steelers.  However, he is a very competent backup, and a terror on special teams.  Fox emerged as one of my favorite Steelers, and that is difficult to do as primarily a special teamer.  But the Steelers were terrible on special teams for quite some time, and Fox has been a big factor in their turnaround.    With a salary of less than $500,000, Fox was one of the better values on the Steelers’ roster.

After languishing for years in that football Hell called the Kansas City Chiefs, Fox probably understands that he has a great situation in Pittsburgh.  He is a valued contributor on a team that has the potential to win more Super Bowl rings.  Moreover, he sees that the Rooneys run a class organization.  My guess is that he will want to remain a Steeler.   I also believe that Kevin Colbert and the Steelers coaching staff will want to see him stay as well.  Thus, this deal should get done quickly and quietly.

With the unrestricted free agents taken care of, Colbert will turn his attention to the restricted free agents.  We’ve already discussed Willie Colon in Part 1 of this series.  After him, the most visible restricted free agent is Anthony Smith.  When Smith was drafted, I had high hopes for him.  However, his act has worn thin.  He has never really shown anything on the field (except that he is easily fooled by a pump fake).  Fans and coaches won’t soon forget his silly prediction against the New England Patriots a few years back.  They also won’t forget watching Tom Brady throw touchdown after touchdown at Smith’s expense.  Smith just doesn’t seem to understand that his role is to be the last line of defense, and that he can’t bite on every pump fake that quarterbacks throw at him.

Frankly, I want to see Smith leave because I am tired of watching him try to take his own receivers’ heads off during training camp.  I don’t know why he thinks that he can prove his worth by showing how hard he can hit his own teammates.  The Steelers can’t afford to lose Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, or Nate Washington  to injury because Anthony Smith was trying to prove how tough he is.  Everybody but Smith understands this simple point.  Besides, can anyone ever remember seeing Anthony Smith get a good hit on ANY player who wasn’t wearing black and gold?  Ever?  Even once?  Neither can I.  Goodbye Anthony.  don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

The 3 remaining restricted free agents are LB Arnold Harrison, TE/FB Sean McHugh, and CB Anthony Madison.  None of these players are going to get much attention in free agency.  Harrison might be able to get some attention as a special teamer or as a backup LB, but that’s about it.  All of them will be best served doing everything that they can to stay with the Steelers.  Afterall, if they want to win additional championships, there aren’t many organizations that give them a better opportunity to do so than the Steelers.

In my opinion, losing any of these players won’t be a major loss to the organization.  Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has a tight end fetish, and he collects as many of them as he possibly can.  Therefore, he is likely to try to keep McHugh, even though most fans would probably prefer to see the Steelers get a legitimate blocking fullback (as opposed to a tight end playing out of position).

Harrison (Arnold, not James) is a good special teams player, and he is a good backup LB.  He has spent several years in Dick LeBeau’s defensive system, and he should know it pretty well by now.  Unfortunately, the Steelers are busting at the seams with talented linebackers.  Lawrence Timmons is going to supplant Larry Foote next year, and Bruce Davis has a lot of potential and will probably move ahead of Arnold Harrison on the depth chart next year if he continues to work hard.  The Steelers will probably keep Harrison if they can sign him for reasonable dollars.  But if he asks for too much money, the Steelers will let him go without losing any sleep.

Anthony Madison is a career special teamer.  Technically, he is a cornerback.  However, in his 3 year career, he has never started a game, has never made an interception, and has never even had a single pass defensed.  He only makes approximately $450,000, so if he is willing to sign a new contract for the same amount, the Steelers will probably keep him around.  However, his position will be one of the most vulnerable come training camp.

That will take care of Colbert’s free agents.  However, his most pressing problem is not his free agents.  He has 9 important players with one year left on their contracts.  Among them are Hines Ward, James Harrison, Heath Miller, Ryan Clark, and Brett Keisel.  We’ll discuss what Kevin Colbert should do with these players in Part 3 of our series.

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