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Steelers, Timmons at Crossroads

Lawrence Timmons has played in an 120 consecutive regular-season games, of which he's started 101 straight, NFL highs for linebackers. Craig Wolfley believes those streaks should continue in Black and Gold.

It was cold that night. I was huddled up in my winter jacket, shivering a bit as I enjoyed a night-before-the-game cigar with my buddy Tunch Ilkin. 

We sat outside the hotel, watching as players, family members, media guys and such scurried about. They made their way to cars, vans, dinner reservations. The Pittsburgh Steelers were in Boston for the AFC Championship Game. Excitement was in the air in anticipation of the heavyweight clash of AFC titans.   

A hooded figure walked toward us, and I couldn’t help but say something along the lines of “Look at that old man playing like a young man.” A smile crept over the face of Lawrence Timmons as he pulled the hood back from his face.

Though the Steelers would lose the next day to the despised New England Patriots, Timmons went into the game riding a Pro Bowl-caliber second half of the season. We started talking, and when I pushed Lawrence as to why his game had been steadily on the upswing, it was heavy in his mind that much of it had to do with him getting his diet right. 

Hmmm. When you talk to so many other players of this era, more and more they value an eating plan that provides the proper fuel. Marcus Gilbert credited his weight loss and first steps toward Pro Bowl status to diet. Lev Bell is another, as is Antonio Brown. They even employ nutritionists in order to help them perform at top levels of efficiency. Even the man they would meet in Gillette Stadium the next day, Tom Brady, was known to eat “avocado ice cream.” 

Seriously? 

I’ll stick to Chubby Hubby or Rocky Road, thank you very much.

A well-known eater in my own right, I've been introduced by Tunch as a man "who’s done for food what Dean Martin did for alcohol.” 

I can’t say I’ve ever risen to that level (or sunk, I should say), but after watching Timmons lose his lunch during games the past couple of years, and now not having those problems, it seems to be working for him.

In his 10th year, Timmons led the Steelers with 114 tackles and continued his iron man role, having recorded less than 16 games in a season just once in his decade at inside linebacker. 

I would dare to suggest that his diet not only helped him but had to be a relief to teammates standing next to him in the huddle. 

I would also have to believe Timmons has also been helped by a steady diet of Ryan Shazier lining up next to him inside. 

Together, the two ILBs provide jet fuel speed and hit-ability. Ryan has become what the great Dick LeBeau envisioned as defensive coordinator and part of the team that drafted Shazier. Ryan was that new hybrid inside guy who was an oversized strong safety and could run with wide receivers. 

As the game moves more from its roots and running game and into “basketball in shoulder pads,” as Ryan Clark once described it, the Ryan Shaziers are going to be ever more in demand. 

And Ryan’s growth as a player grew in direct proportion to his ability to “know the difference between pain and injury,” as Chuck Noll used to tell us. That’s not putting Ryan down. That’s a head nod to toughness gained and toughness earned by him. It’s the coming of age of a young man who has come to understand that the final steps in ascending to Pro Bowl, Super Bowl or any bowl status comes in the essence of the man playing at his side, his wingman as it were, Timmons. 

Toughness epitomized.

It’s no different than in my younger days learning what it meant to line up in between Mike Webster and Jon Kolb. 

It helps to have a picture of what it looks like to be the leader of the pack, to be a man who has held that post for the past decade and still lines up there. And as Ryan stacks the starts one on top of the other, he has grown as a playmaker. Instincts, as I not-so-laughingly refer to as the Samurai Sixth Sense, do not become operational unless you are putting in serious time. 

For that reason alone -- and I know that Vince Williams is waiting in the wings -- but for the reason stated above, I hope the Steelers and Lawrence are able to get together on a contract and they bring him back.

New diet, old diet, puke on the field or not, give me at least another year of Lawrence Timmons lining up next to Ryan Shazier. Lawrence brings toughness, great see/do ability and a downhill bang. 

Leadership isn’t about lips, it’s about performance. You can’t have performance without performing. Timmons is all that and more.

Shazier brings the cat-like quickness and cheetah ranginess and striking ability; I would certainly hate to be a limping wildebeest on the plains of the Serengeti with Shazier in a hungry mood. Ryan also grew in his weakest area, which was his inability to disengage from blocks. Nobody has ever questioned his ability to accelerate through the hit after getting off the block. 

The two matched together bring an inside stability and strength, with the added bonus of playing important roles in sub-package football in which down, distance and personnel are always a determining factor in who's on the field. In the age of specialization, having multiple facets to your game athletically provides a wider range of possibilities. Rush-ability, cover-ability and tackling-ability are the big three in linebacker-ability. 

Having “Law Dawg” back on the job with Shazier would give the Steelers as solid an inside twosome as you’ll find, in my most humble opinion. When you factor in LT’s ironman strength and durability with the blazing speed and striking ability of Shazier, it’s a one-two punch combination that’s hard to find.


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