PITTSBURGH – James Harrison rarely holds back when it comes to controversial comments.
Larry Foote’s a congenial chatterbox on and off the field.
And among great Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers of the recent past, Joey Porter was known for his trash talking and James Farrior for his vocal leadership.
Something about the position, maybe.
Then, of course, there’s Lawrence Timmons, arguably the best linebacker for the best statistical defense in the NFL. Timmons hardly fits the mold of a loud and rambunctious Steelers linebacker — past or present.
But he’s just as productive, if not more. And he will be in focus when his Steelers (6-3) face the Baltimore Ravens (7-2) in an AFC North showdown Sunday night.
“Man, if Lawrence says more than two words to you, I guess you’re his friend,” Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton quipped. “I might not be his friend. I don’t think he’s said more than two words to me since he’s been here.”
Quiet and mild-mannered in the Steelers’ locker room, Timmons maintains a steely focus when he’s in the heat of battle. And the Steelers will need that this week.
The freakishly athletic former first-round pick is in his fourth season as a starter, but he’s still the junior member of a veteran Pittsburgh corps. With Harrison and Foote in their 30s and LaMarr Woodley shaking off hamstring injuries, Timmons has been the Steelers’ most consistent playmaker at linebacker.
His interception of Matt Cassel and 23-yard return inside the Kansas City 10 set up the winning field goal in overtime of a 16-13 victory over the Chiefs on Monday night.
“He told me that he was one of the top offensive prospects coming out of high school and I used to deny that,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “But after that run he made Monday night, I think he’s got a point.”
The 75-year-old LeBeau chuckled. But he wasn’t joking a few moments later when he said, “I think Lawrence has been playing at a Pro Bowl level for several years now.”
In the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme, it’s the outside linebackers who rack up the sacks. Timmons has played there at times for Pittsburgh, but he’s settling into his inside spot next to Foote. That hasn’t taken away, though, from the versatility that might be his greatest asset.
“I feel like I can fill in anywhere to help the defense,” Timmons said. “I love getting put in the game plans and I like being in spaces where I can make plays. That means a lot to me.”
A chiseled 6-foot-1, 234 pounds, Timmons is big enough to be an effective tackler but fast enough to be a strong safety. That’s exactly how LeBeau sees it. When Foote calls Timmons “the Troy Polamalu of the front seven,” it’s because of his polite and soft-spoken ways. LeBeau actually uses Timmons as the Polamalu of the front seven.
“Each year he’s just been getting better and better, and lately he’s started to be a big-time playmaker,” Foote said.
It seems as if every summer, Timmons is the popular choice as Pittsburgh’s “breakout” player. That talk was amplified when he signed a six-year, $50 million contract extension in August 2011.
But now he seems to be living up to it.
“I’m always trying to be real hard on myself,” Timmons said. “I hate to make mistakes so I’m always concentrating and I try to be real focused. I’m always trying to be the best.”