By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Lawrence Timmons with their No. 1 pick in 2007, the 6-foot-1, 234-pound linebacker was given a shot to learn both inside and outside positions in the club’s three-four defense.
In his third season as a starting inside linebacker for the Steelers, Timmons has improved greatly and was among the NFL’s leading tacklers last season. And the Steelers apparently are confident that he can play both spots, because Timmons is slated to replace James Harrison at right outside linebacker against the Tennessee Titans (3-1) Sunday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field.
“I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I’ve played some on the outside,” Timmons said. “I’ve even been the second-team outside linebacker when I was playing inside earlier, so it’s not that big of a deal for me.
“The last three years I played some outside. … I played against Miami and Tampa Bay last year at outside linebacker, so I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Right defensive end Brett Keisel speculated that with him returning from a knee injury after two weeks off and Harrison being replaced by Timmons, the Titans might attack that side of the Steelers’ defense.
“I can see that happening, sure,” Timmons said. “(But) I’m up to the task.”
The Titans have a good, huge left tackle in 6-foot-7, 320-pound Michael Roos, a seventh-year pro from Eastern Washington. He’s a lot bigger than some of the inside guys that he usually faces on a weekly basis, but that hasn’t deterred Timmons for this game.
“In certain defensive packages, I rush outside,” Timmons said. “So, I’ve gone against some pretty big guys in the past. It’s not like I’m out of my realm on the outside, so … it’ll be all right. I’ve played inside more often the past few years, but I’ve gotten a lot of work on the outside.
“I guess you can get more tackles playing inside, too, but you can rush the passer more and get more sacks on the outside. And I like sacks, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll play where they need me to play. (But) I do like sacks. So, I think this is a great opportunity for me.”
Timmons admitted that he and his defensive teammates could be playing better, but he also cautioned that there’s no need to panic just yet.
“It’s early in the season,” Timmon said. “It’s not as well as I would like it to be, but it’s still early. I’m working hard, and we’re a lot closer than people think. So, I’m still optimistic, and I think everything will work out.”
Larry Foote, in his 10th NFL season, had a slightly different outlook. Foote, who will take Timmons’ inside backer spot next to 15-year veteran James Farrior, believed the Steelers should have a sense of urgency in their approach.
“It better be, because we’re 2-2 and the first quarter of the season is gone,” Foote said. “Everybody’s got to be honest with themselves, examine their games and come out swinging. All our goals are still ahead of us, so we’ve got to get this thing turned around and get going. That’s as a collective unit.
“It’s only one guy here and there, but we need to have all 11 guys on the same page. We have to be gap sound. We can’t afford to be outside our gaps, and we need to be more consistent. (And) when you put film out there teams are going to duplicate it until we stop it. So, we have to stop it this week.”
With second-year outside linebacker Jason Worilds struggling with a left quad strain, rookie Chris Carter from Fresno State should be activated as a backup on both sides, even though he is listed on the depth chart as LaMarr Woodley’s backup on the left side.
“I’ve primarily played outside this year, but I’ve played both sides there,” Carter said. “The thing with our defense is you have to know both sides, but I’ve been working on the right side this week with James and Jason being out. You have to learn both positions, so there’s a chance I could be anywhere.
“Just getting a chance to play, that’s the most important thing for me. It doesn’t matter where I’m at, really, so I just have to be prepared when they call my number. And I’m ready for that, for sure, so I’m looking forward to this week. I’ve had two good practice days, and I’ve continued to progress.”
Health has been an issue in recent weeks for Carter, as he struggled with a hamstring problem since the preseason. However, Carter said he has had no ill effects in at least a week.
“I’ve felt really good this week, and I haven’t had any problems after two good practices,” Carter said. “Hamstrings are tricky injuries, and this was my first one. So, I had to learn how to rehab it and not push too hard to come back, because that can really set you back. And nobody wants that to happen.”
Foote also commented when asked about Harrison’s eye surgery this past week that repaired a fractured orbital bone around his right eye.
“They said it was only a 20-minute surgery, so it couldn’t have been too bad,” Foote understated. “The helmet came down, slid down and got him when he got hit there. It was the inside of the helmet, so a hand didn’t get in there. A good head-on collision can cause that any time, actually.”
Foote didn’t know when to expect Harrison back with his teammates.