by Alan Robinson
AP Sports Writer
LATROBE, Pa. (AP)—Larry Foote is the mouth of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ locker room. James Farrior is its conscience.
Foote loosens up his teammates with his nonstop chattering and incessant arguing on any subject. Farrior is the defense’s acknowledged leader, a reliable perfectionist and team captain who is almost always in the right position to make a tackle or shut down a play.
|SIGNALING—Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Larry Foote gives a signal during the NFL football team’s training camp in Latrobe, Pa., Aug. 1.
Last season changed everything for Foote and Farrior, the starting inside linebackers on the Steelers’ Super Bowl-winning teams during the 2005 and 2008 seasons.
Foote was miserable losing in Detroit, leaving Pittsburgh as a free agent only so he could remain a starter. Farrior was Pittsburgh’s top tackler for the fourth consecutive season, but the quality of his play admittedly slipped as the Steelers went 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
Back in Pittsburgh this season, Foote intends to remain a starter at age 30. To do that, he must beat out the 35-year-old Farrior, the oldest starter on one of the NFL’s oldest defenses—and a player who isn’t the least bit interested in giving up his job. Not even to a close friend.
“I feel like I’ve always got to compete and that’s the mindset since I’ve been in the NFL, there’s always somebody out there younger, trying to take your job,” Farrior said. “They’re always looking to replace you.”
|WARMING UP—Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Farrior warms up before the first practice session at the NFL football team’s training camp in Latrobe, Pa., July 31.
Until now, Farrior looked to be one of the most irreplaceable of players on a defense that is the NFL’s best statistically over the past five seasons. A two-time Pro Bowl linebacker and former team MVP, he has started 70 consecutive games—every one since 2005. He routinely does his job so well, it allows players such as Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley to make the plays that do get noticed.
Still, Farrior hit some rough patches last season, especially during a difficult-to-explain losing streak against the Bengals, Chiefs, Ravens, Raiders and Browns that ultimately kept the Steelers out of the playoffs.
Several teams picked on Farrior when slid into pass coverage, and a defense that was the NFL’s best in nearly every major statistical category the previous season lost fourth-quarter leads five times. The Steelers also ranked poorly in getting off the field on third and fourth downs.
“Definitely, we felt like we could have played a lot better and we’re looking to pick it up,” Farrior said.
To do that, the Steelers brought back Foote and cornerback Bryant McFadden, another former Super Bowl starter who moved on to a different team in 2009—Arizona for him—and didn’t especially like it.
They also drafted outside linebacker Jason Worilds in the second round to groom into a pass rusher. And they’re experimenting in camp with last year’s first-round pick, defensive end Ziggy Hood, sliding in for a few plays at nose tackle.
Foote left the Steelers partly because he knew 2007 first-round pick Lawrence Timmons was ready to start. Timmons finished fourth on the team in tackles and third in sacks (seven) and, at age 24, is one of only two defensive starters who are 28 or younger.
Timmons isn’t about to lose his job so, if Foote is to play most of the time, Farrior must lose his.
“Right now on paper I am (a backup), but the coaches told me I’m going to play,” Foote said. “It’s up to my talent and how fast I get back into the swing of things that will determine my playing time. I’m just trying to put my cards on the table and see what happens.”
To keep Foote from replacing him, Farrior made certain his offseason regimen was more difficult than ever. He spent the last few weeks before camp—a time when some players fit in a quick vacation—working out for three hours-plus a day in the Florida heat with a trainer.
Farrior believes he’s in such good shape that his age shouldn’t matter, even if he knows it does.
“Every year, everybody has to prove themselves all over again,” Farrior said. “Especially me.”
Not that Farrior isn’t enjoying having Foote back.
“It’s great to have that loudmouth back in the locker room. We missed him last year, not having his voice around,” Farrior said. “He was one of my best friends when he was here. Hopefully we can get that back going, that good relationship that we had.”