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Disappearing Act
Peter King
October 13, 1997
The Steelers' Greg Lloyd is back, but only as a shell of his former self, A Giant dilemma, Miami's injury bug
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October 13, 1997

Disappearing Act

The Steelers' Greg Lloyd is back, but only as a shell of his former self, A Giant dilemma, Miami's injury bug

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SEVEN POINTS OR LESS

BEST

WORST

1

Chiefs

18-7

.720

1

Oilers

6-21

.222

2

Steelers

11-5

.688

2

Jets

7-17

.292

3

Chargers

15-7

.682

3

Ravens

4-8

.333

4

Bills

17-8

.680

4

Redskins

10-19

.345

THREE POINTS OR LESS

BEST

WORST

1

Chargers

7-2

.778

1

Redskins

2-11

.154

1

Steelers

7-2

.778

2

Ravens

1-5

.167

3

Patriots

9-3

.750

3

Oilers

3-14

.176

4

Eagles

8-3

.727

4

Packers

2-7

.222

As the rest of the Steelers celebrated their 42-34 win over the Ravens on Sunday with high fives and hugs in the locker room, linebacker Greg Lloyd stood off to the side. He rolled down his socks, took off his gloves and replaced his helmet with a baseball cap. The Steelers may have rallied from a 21-point deficit to win their third game of the year, but Lloyd was in no mood to celebrate.

During the 1996 opener in Jacksonville, Lloyd tore the patella tendon in his left knee, and he is still struggling to regain the form that earned him Pro Bowl honors from 1991 to '95. He sat out all of last season. Now, five games into 1997, he has tallied just 13 solo tackles (25 total) and half a sack.

Statistically, he's headed for the worst season of his 11-year NFL career, but numbers have never defined Lloyd. Although small for a linebacker at 6'2", 228 pounds, his ferocious drive and warrior mentality put him among the elite group of defenders capable of cutting an opponent's field in half. Now that intimidating presence seems to have evaporated. "I'm doing fine," Lloyd, 32, said after Sunday's game. "People expect me to run around and make plays all the time. But that requires people to run the ball at me. I'm doing my job fine, I know, because they still aren't coming my way with the ball, are they?"

Indeed, as if by habit, the Ravens rushed almost exclusively to the other side of the field. The Pittsburgh defense, though it is on pace to give up more points than any team in franchise history, held the Ravens to 52 rushing yards and is ranked first in the league against the run.

Lloyd, a black belt in taekwondo, is still quite a physical specimen. Mentally, however, he's a long way from getting over the injury. He still doesn't trust the knee enough to fly to the ball or to make a hard cut as he rushes the passer. Desperate for an advantage, Lloyd has already been flagged five times for being offside. "Let's not forget, a lot of people don't make it back from this kind of injury, period," Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said last week. "If Greg misses one play in the open field, that doesn't warrant people saying this guy can't play anymore."

But Lloyd's lapses have been much more frequent than that. In a 30-21 loss to Jacksonville on Sept. 22, he played almost the entire game, yet finished with only one solo tackle. Lloyd "disappeared," according to one Jaguars scout. "He did nothing," admitted a member of the Steelers' organization. Unable to cover a large area, Lloyd has also become a liability in Pittsburgh's dime package, which has left the Steelers ranked last in the league in stopping opponents on third down (37 of 71 converted). Against the Ravens, coach Bill Cowher sat Lloyd in favor of Levon Kirkland in those situations. One NFC director of player personnel suggests Lloyd's problems may be more than just physical: "To play as he plays, Lloyd must have a special energy and commitment. If he doesn't have that anymore, he's just like a ton of other guys in this league."

Since coming back, Lloyd has distinguished himself as an ambassador of ill will. During the preseason American Bowl in Dublin, Lloyd called the Irish people rude. This season he has flipped off a reporter, told another to "eat s—and die" and threatened to placekick another. Last week he shoved a Russian television journalist who was working for a Pittsburgh station.

To his credit, Lloyd is active in several charities. But the bad p.r., coupled with his slow recovery, must have the Steelers wondering if they made a mistake before the 1996 season when they signed Lloyd, who'd already had two knee operations, to a three-year, $11.2 million contract and opted not to extend the contract of linebacker Chad Brown, who joined the Seahawks as a free agent in the off-season. Since the start of the '96 season, the 27-year-old Brown has had 124 tackles and 16 sacks.

The Steelers certainly could have used Brown on Sunday. Lloyd never even sniffed quarterback Vinny Testaverde, and he was often pushed out of plays by a single blocker. "A few years ago," said one Baltimore lineman, "we called him Lloyd's of London because it was smart to get an extra insurance policy if you were playing him."

What about now? Do blockers still check their premiums before facing Lloyd? "Nope," said the Ravens lineman. "Not anymore."
—DAVID FLEMING

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