Broadway Showman: Joey Porter to go buff ?

It wasn't so unusual that Joey Porter did a cartwheel leading into two back flips after running 14 40-yard sprints at the Steelers' run test to open training camp. <br><br> It was unusual, though, to see Porter doing all of this in his underwear. <br><br> Then again, maybe it wasn't so unusual.

"When you run that test," explained Porter, "you see guys trying to look for anything to take off. If they could run out here barefoot in a jockstrap they would."

And Porter would probably lead the way. He's -- how they say in show business -- an extrovert.

"Joey's like a Broadway showman," said teammate Clark Haggans. "If he has any ability in something, he likes to show it. He wants everyone to see it, like it."

Haggans should know. He's seen Porter's act since their days at Colorado State University, where both terrorized quarterbacks in the Western Athletic Conference as bookend defensive ends. Haggans is a role player now with the Steelers, while Porter blossomed into last season's defensive MVP and a Pro Bowler. If anyone should show off, it's Porter, who's entering his fifth season with reason to believe it'll be his best.

The run test was his jumping-off point. The chiseled outside linebacker ran without a shirt, as most players do, and lowered his shorts to start the test in compliance with modern style. But after half the sprints, Porter let the shorts drop, and he finished – in full view of Pittsburgh-area TV cameras -- in his skivvies. And then he went through his gymnastics routine.

"I used to be a little more athletic as far as doing that stuff when I was younger, but I'm 6-3, 250 now," he said with a laugh. "I mean, what I do now is what I'm doing at the end of my workouts. Obviously I'm tired and I'm just trying to see what I can do when I'm tired. Now if you catch me fresh, I can do a lot more."

When he was a kid, Porter broke his arm after his brother and a few friends boosted him "higher than the roof" and he did two flips before landing on his arm.

"You might want to say I was a daredevil, but it was just being a bad kid," he said. "One mistake was never enough, even when people were saying ‘You can't do that.' So cartwheels and back flips are pretty much second nature."

To review, Porter is an unusually athletic extrovert who enjoys bucking authority. In other words, he's a natural NFL linebacker, and one with an edge this off-season.

Porter did gain respect last season and was voted to the Pro Bowl, but he didn't feel he played up to his own expectations, so he went into the off-season on a mission. Porter didn't miss a workout because he made it a priority. It was the first thing he did when he woke up. The results were, ahem, evident during the run test.

"I usually lift a lot and do a lot of running but I don't think I was putting on weight the right way," he said of past years. "I'm only up a couple pounds to 250, but it's a solid 250."

Porter gave an assessment of his play last season.

"I made some plays, did some things, had a good year. Still, I saw the mistakes I made and I feel I could be a lot better. It's already a lot better. We're way ahead of the game right now. To have all these practices at this point in time and not have any mental mistakes, that's good at this point in time. Even the rookies. I mean, linebacker-wise, I think we've only made five mental mistakes as a group. Guys are flying around and taking the job really serious. I remember guys making five mistakes in one day."

Porter had nine sacks last season, a somewhat disappointing number after starting the season with six in the first five games. He explained that opponents originally slid their protection towards Jason Gildon, but shifted to Porter after his quick start.

"Plus, I don't even rush in the dime anymore," he said. "I just got to get mine how I can get 'em. I don't even put my hand down anymore. I don't even practice one-on-one drills anymore because I don't get to put my hand down. I just do all the rushing stuff standing up."

Porter will, however, line up at defensive end in the Steelers' nickel, but it hasn't been installed at camp yet. The dime, on the other hand, is his pride and joy. Last year was the first in which he was used in the middle of the passing-downs alignment.

"I'm a lot wiser this year because I already know what to expect from the dime," he said. "I mean, by formations I can see what's going on and I know what they want me to do. Last year I had a feeling what they wanted me to do and I was picking it up as the season went along. But I'm going into the season knowing what they want me to do."

And his goals?

"I've got to have mistake-free games," he said. "I mean, until you play that perfect game, till you go out there and leave knowing you didn't make any mistakes, and every time you had a chance to make a play you made it, you search for that.

"The Oakland game was almost perfect, except for the time I got caught. I should've had a touchdown. But that's the tops. I'm shooting for something that'll be better than that. It doesn't have to be sacks or interceptions. If I have 10 tackles, don't make any mistakes and get everybody line up and we shut somebody out, that would be the perfect game."

And he'll certainly tell us all about it.

Jim Wexell

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