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1 Pittsburgh STEELERS

Sept. 01, 2008
Sept. 01, 2008

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Sept. 1, 2008

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1 Pittsburgh STEELERS

Though the defense was the NFL's best in '07, the rush is on to develop linebackers who can get to the quarterback

A FAMILIAR FACEshowed up at Steelers training camp this summer. Kevin Greene was an outsidelinebacker who teamed with Greg Lloyd to give Pittsburgh a ferocious pass rushfrom 1993 through '95—and the Steelers haven't had a consistent rush sincethose two left. In defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's aggressive zone-blitzscheme, there should be a lot of opportunities to drop the quarterback, butPittsburgh's 36 sacks last year left the team in the middle of the NFLrankings.

This is an article from the Sept. 1, 2008 issue

Though they hadthe league's stingiest defense in yards allowed last season (266.4), and onlyIndianapolis (16.4) allowed fewer points per game than their 16.8, the Steelersshowed some cracks. They gave up a total of 94 points in three notablelate-season losses, one at New England and two at home to Jacksonville (thelast a wild-card playoff). In those three games the Steelers dragged down TomBrady and David Garrard only four times combined.

So here wasGreene, in Latrobe, Pa., for a week in late July. Sacks have been an officialNFL statistic since 1982, and Greene, who played 15 years with the Rams,Steelers, Panthers and 49ers before retiring after the '99 season, is third onthe league's alltime list with 160. He was in camp to help coach the art ofrushing from the outside linebacker spot in the 3--4, and he had two willingpupils in Pittsburgh's top selections in the 2007 draft: LaMarr Woodley, afull-time OLB, and Lawrence Timmons, who is expected to play inside andoutside.

The thick-legged,265-pound Woodley will line up over the tight end; Timmons, 234 pounds with aquick burst, will pass-rush in the nickel. Late in training camp, Timmons wasin an even competition with Larry Foote for one of the inside jobs, and he'llmost likely win that battle at some point this season. But for the long termthe coaches envision Woodley and Timmons as their bookends on the outside. Fornow, on regular downs, 30-year-old James Harrison, who led the team with 8 1/2sacks last year, will play right outside linebacker.

"Outsidelinebacker in the 3--4 is one of the toughest positions in football to play,because you're asked to do so much," says Greene. "You've got to playthe run at the point of attack, you've got to be able to drop back and coverand you've got to be able to rush. Imagine how good a player you'd have if hecovers a tight end up the seam on one play, plays the run the next and comesaround the corner to the quarterback the next. That's the job."

Greene liked whathe saw in Woodley. After practice one morning in Latrobe he worked with thesecond-year player on jabbing and punching, on different first steps to beatright tackles and on dislodging the jersey-grab of the tackles or tight endswho try to engage him. On the field, Greene told Woodley, "you've got torush in a powerful, violent way. When he respects your violence, that opens upyour speed moves."

When the Steelerslined up for a full-pad pass-rush drill that day, Woodley was opposite315-pound right tackle Willie Colon. On the first snap Woodley bull-rushedColon, driving him back into the passer. On the next snap Woodley deked Coloninside, then sprinted around his right shoulder to the quarterback. "That'swhat he'll have to do a lot in his career," says Greene. "You make thetackle expect the power, then you kill him with the speed."

"This defenseis perfect for me," Woodley says. "I'm comfortable covering the tightend one play and rushing the next. And this year I know what I'm doing. I'mjust reacting, not thinking then reacting."

From Nov. 9 toDec. 7 the Steelers will face, in succession, Peyton Manning (Colts), PhilipRivers (Chargers), Carson Palmer (Bengals), Brady and Tony Romo (Cowboys).Woodley and the edge rushers had better have their techniques down by then.

PROJECTED STARTINGLINEUP WITH 2007 STATISTICS COACH MIKE TOMLIN (10--6 in NFL), second seasonwith Steelers

OFFENSE

Hines WARD
POS WR
REC 71
YARDS 732
TD 7

Willie COLON
POS RT
HT 6'3"
WT 315
G 16

Willie PARKER
POS RB
ATT 321
YARDS 1,316
AVG 4.1
REC 23
YARDS 164
AVG 7.1
TD 2

Kendall SIMMONS
POS RG
HT 6'3"
wt 315
G 16

BenROETHLISBERGER
POS QB
ATT 404
COMP 264
PCT 65.3
YARDS 3,154
TD 32
INT 11
RATING 104.1

Justin HARTWIG --New ACQUISITION
POS C
HT 6'4"
WT 312
G 15

Carey DAVIS
POS FB
ATT 17
YARDS 68
AVG 4.0
REC 12
YARDS 49
AVG 4.1
TD 0

Chris KEMOEATU
POS LG
HT 6'3"
WT 344
G 16

Santonio HOLMES
POS WR
REC 52
YARDS 942
TD 8

Marvel SMITH
POS LT
HT 6'5"
WT 321
G 12

Jeff REED
POS K
FG 23--25
POINTS 113

Heath MILLER
POS TE
REC 47
YARDS 566
TD 7

DEFENSE

LaMarr WOODLEY
POS OLB
TACKLES 13
SACKS 4
INT 0

Ike TAYLOR
POS CB
TACKLES 79
INT 3

Aaron SMITH
POS LE
TACKLES 31
SACKS 2 1/2

Ryan CLARK
POS FS
TACKLES 20
SACKS 1
INT 0

Casey HAMPTON
POS NT
TACKLES 33
SACKS 1/2

James FARRIOR
POS ILB
TACKLES 96
SACKS 6 1/2
INT 1

Brett KEISEL
POS RE
TACKLES 39
SACKS 2

Larry FOOTE
POS ILB
TACKLES 79
SACKS 3
INT 1

James HARRISON
POS OLB
TACKLES 86
SACKS 8 1/2
INT 1

Troy POLAMALU
POS SS
TACKLES 58
SACKS 0
INT 0

Mitch BERGER --New ACQUISITION
POS P
PUNTS 20
AVG 40.7

Deshea TOWNSEND
POS CB
TACKLES 52
INT 2

New ACQUISITION
2007 RECORD 10--6 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 3/22/17 DEFENSE 3/3/1

SEPTEMBER
7 HOUSTON
14 at Cleveland
21 at Philadelphia
29 BALTIMORE (M)

OCTOBER
5 at Jacksonville
12 Bye
19 at Cincinnati
26 N.Y. GIANTS

NOVEMBER
3 at Washington (M)
9 INDIANAPOLIS
16 SAN DIEGO
20 CINCINNATI (T)
30 at New England

DECEMBER

7 DALLAS
14 at Baltimore
21 at Tennessee
28 CLEVELAND

(M) Monday (T) Thursday

SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL Rank: 1
Opponents' 2007 winning percentage: .598
Games against playoff teams: 8

UNIT GRADES

SI.com's NFL personnel expert Michael Lombardievaluates the Steelers' units.

QB B+
Byron Leftwich provides quality veteran backup.

RB B+
Rookie Rashard Mendenhall adds a dimension.

WR B-
Need to keep Holmes healthy and get rookie Limas Sweed ready.

TE B
Miller is the latest standard-bearer for an always strong unit.

OL C
The team's Achilles heel; failed to protect Roethlisberger in '07.

DL A
Remains one of league's toughest clubs to run against.

LB A
Have some very good rushers and excellent speed.

DB B
Playmakers at all positions; best when the rush is going well.

ST B
From kicking game through coverage units, solid all around.

SPOTLIGHT

Santonio Holmes
WIDE RECEIVER

Quietly he began to emerge in 2007 as BenRoethlisberger's best downfield alternative to Hines Ward. Entering his thirdseason, Holmes figures to build on his breakout year, when he had a league-best18.1 yards per catch, on 52 receptions. "I'm expecting to be more involvedin the offense," he says.

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SI VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
July 29, 1974

WHO SHOULD start for the Steelers at quarterback wasat least as hot a political issue around town as Liquorgate, a corruptionscandal that I never understood but which involved booze, as did many things inPittsburgh. It had always been a big politics town, appropriately enough for aplace where you once could have a smoke-filled room by just opening awindow.

--Roy Blount Jr.

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PHOTOLEON HALIP/US PRESSWIREQUICK STUDY The versatile Woodley is an ideal fit at OLB for the Steelers' 3--4 scheme.PHOTOJIM MCISAAC/GETTY IMAGESPHOTOWALTER IOOSS JR. (COVER)PHOTO