LATROBE – It’s hard to make it through a Steelers training camp practice at Saint Vincent College without hearing a popular refrain from head coach Mike Tomlin.
“That’s the way to run to the ball Law Dog,” Tomlin has yelled numerous times.
“Law Dog” is Tomlin’s pet name for Lawrence Timmons. It was a name given to the inside linebacker back in 2007, his first season with the Steelers when he was Tomlin’s initial first-round draft pick.
It has been eight years since Timmons was the fresh-faced newcomer to the Steelers’ defense. And it took him a full season to take a starting job away from Larry Foote.
Now, Timmons is tasked with not just being another guy on what were some great defenses. He’s expected to be the unquestioned leader of what the Steelers hope will be a much better defense than it was in 2013, when Pittsburgh uncharacteristically ranked in the middle of the pack or lower in most statistical categories.
“I try to be a guy for my coach to make an example of,” said Timmons, who has led the Steelers in tackles in three of the past four seasons, including a career-high 155 in 2013.
“I try to show the guys how we go about getting through meetings, running to the ball in practice, my tenacity, things of that nature, so that I can be an example for them. I want to be a leader for the young guys, just showing them how it’s done the Steelers way.”
With five starters gone from last season’s opening-game defense, the Steelers are counting on Timmons more than ever.
He has shifted back from the weakside inside linebacker position that he played the last two seasons to the strongside position he played in his first seven seasons. The switch opens a spot for rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier, the Steelers’ first-round draft pick.
Timmons will continue to make the defensive calls for the front seven and serve as a mentor to the younger players, which includes Shazier and outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, the 2013 first-round draft pick.
“That’s being a veteran, being here for a while and seeing how the older guys did things,” Timmons said. “That’s me now. Some of it’s verbal, but with the actions there’s not much you need to say.”
The Steelers have been pleased with Timmons’ actions for quite some time. In 2012, he was the first Pittsburgh linebacker since Joey Porter in 2002 to lead or tie for the team lead in tackles, interceptions and sacks. And the Steelers believe that with Timmons lined up inside with the speedy Shazier, they have two of the fastest inside linebackers in the NFL.
Though he has one Super Bowl ring and has helped the Steelers get to another Super Bowl, what has eluded the 28-year-old Timmons is national recognition. Despite his solid play, he’s never been voted to the Pro Bowl.
“I’ve said for three years that he’s played at a Pro Bowl level,” said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. “A couple of those years we led the league in defense and he should have gone. That’s just my opinion.”
For many years, Timmons had a logjam of players ahead of him, including Baltimore’s perennial Pro Bowl inside linebacker Ray Lewis. And when Lewis retired following the 2012 season, the Steelers’ defense faltered, leaving Timmons watching the playoffs and Pro Bowl from his couch.
That could change this year, if the Steelers’ defense improves the way Timmons and the team believes it can.
“I feel like we can be anything we want to be,” Timmons said. “We have all of the intangibles to do it. We’ve got all the players. We’ve got the same coaching staff that’s been here all of these years putting out powerhouse defenses.”
Odds and end zones
Tomlin said Thursday that Shazier, nose tackle Steve McLendon, linebackers Jarvis Jones and Jordan Zumwalt, and tight end Rob Blanchflower are questionable to play in Saturday’s preseason opener against the Giants in New York. … Shazier (knee) and McLendon (concussion) sat out practice Thursday. Also sitting out were defensive end Cam Heyward, safety Troy Polamalu, wide receiver Antonio Brown and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. … The Steelers will return Monday to Saint Vincent College.