|Troy Polamalu fits the Steelers' mold: drafted, then developed into an All-Pro.
|Bob Rosato/SI |
10 TENNESSEE (T)
20 at Chicago
27 at Cincinnati
4 SAN DIEGO
11 at Detroit
9 at Denver (M)
22 at Kansas City
29 at Baltimore
10 at Cleveland (T)
20 GREEN BAY
3 at Miami
Lawrence Timmons, Linebacker: Watching the Steelers this summer, one thing was evident: They might
be much more athletic on defense now that Timmons, a sideline-to-sideline
playmaker, takes the place of Larry Foote. "He has rockets in his butt,"
defensive end Brett Keisel says of Timmons. "He can run like I haven't seen a
lot of guys run."
Pittsburgh picked Timmons in the first round of the 2007 draft even though he
had started only 13 games at Florida State. "We knew his first couple of years
would be developmental," says director of football operations Kevin Colbert.
"But that's O.K. I think it's good to have patience with talented players like
Lawrence." Many Steelers, including Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes and 2008
defensive player of the year James Harrison, have sat more than they played the
first couple of years as they learned the team's system. (Harrison, in fact, was
cut twice by the Steelers before he finally caught on.)
Last year Foote was mostly a first- and second-down player specializing in
stopping the run. Timmons is expected to be an every-down linebacker and third
pass-rushing weapon behind Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, who combined for 27 1/2
sacks last year. Just what the quarterbacks of the AFC North need: another
member of the Pittsburgh front seven buzzing around in their backfield for two
games a season.
This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
If continuity is the key to the defending champions' success, then '09 is looking like another good year.
Seems like Groundhog Day in Pittsburgh. Virtually all the same
faces are in the same places, including 19 of the 22 starters who won Super
Bowl XLIII. That's remarkable in an era when even good teams typically turn
over about 30% of their roster from year to year.
The most noticeable absence is owner Dan Rooney, who remains club chairman
while serving as the new ambassador to Ireland. But his son, Art Rooney II,
who in 2007 led the search for a new coach that resulted in the hiring of Mike
Tomlin, takes the reins with the same all-in-the-family sentiment as his dad. As
for the rest of the staff -- from director of football operations Kevin Colbert to
the 15 coaches to the medical and equipment personnel: no changes.
When Ross Tucker, a former NFL offensive lineman, visited Steelers camp as a
correspondent for SI.com this summer, he was shocked at what he saw compared
with the five teams he'd played for and others he'd recently seen in camps.
"It's like Alcatraz," Tucker says. "No one leaves. It's different, far
different, than any other team in football."
One of the two starters who did not return, inside linebacker Larry Foote,
who was picked up by the Lions, explains, "There's a formula in Pittsburgh, and
they don't stray from it. The front office knows what kind of player to get at
each position. When you step into that training facility every day, you know
what's expected of you. Then, in the community, you feel the pressure to win
every day. You feel how important it is to everyone you meet, everywhere you go.
They've got the perfect mix."
A 2002 draft pick who spent seven seasons with the Steelers, Foote wasn't
re-signed primarily because the player who was drafted in 2007 and groomed to
replace an inside linebacker, Lawrence Timmons, is ready to take over. He and
the other new starter for Pittsburgh this year, cornerback William Gay, probably
would have won the jobs in any event. Gay, a feisty cover man, split playoff
duties with Bryant McFadden last year, and by Super Bowl XLIII they were
taking an equal number of snaps. (McFadden wound up signing with the
Countless factors go into repeating as Super Bowl champion; only the
Patriots, in 2003 and '04, have done it in the last 10 years. They had
little turnover as well: Just three starters on the second Super Bowl
team -- running back Corey Dillon, nosetackle Vince Wilfork and cornerback Randall
Gay -- were in their first seasons with New England. Injuries matter, of course,
and the players have to stay hungry, but continuity is as important as
Former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan was a guest at the Pittsburgh camp for
three days this summer and left raving about the team's stability. "The whole
defensive staff has [coordinator] Dick LeBeau's system down to a T," Shanahan
says. "They've all been here five, six years at least, every defensive coach. I
can't tell you how important that is, to have every coach be able to teach the
system just the way the boss wants it taught. That's part of why they win.
Imagine having three [head] coaches in 40 years. That doesn't happen in this
business. They pick coaches who fit their style."
For the Steelers to win it all again, the design is clear: Play efficiently
on offense (they turned the ball over only 25 times in 2008), improve on
their rushing average of 3.7 yards per carry, keep pressuring the passer
and hang tough through a difficult end to the schedule -- two dates with the Ravens
after Thanksgiving and the finale on the road in Miami. The Steelers avoid
playing New England and Indianapolis in the regular season, but they probably
won't be so lucky if they advance in the playoffs. Which, of course, would be
business as usual in Pittsburgh.
-- Peter King