Steelers LB Farrior running out of dime

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> James Farrior leads the Steelers in tackles and is tied for the team lead in interceptions. Part of the reason for this has been his play as the middle linebacker in the team's dime defense. <br><br> But with Joey Porter's return in last Sunday's 17-10 victory at Cincinnati, Farrior's days in the dime are numbered. The Steelers' leading tackler is going to find himself relegated to backup duty on many third-down plays, as Porter takes back the middle linebacker spot.

"James Farrior is a guy who's a really smart player," said head coach Bill Cowher. "I don't know how its going to unfold, but it's good to have options."

Option No. 1 should be to keep Farrior at middle linebacker and let Porter go back to the rush end position. But that would send Kendrell Bell back to the bench in the dime package, something the team doesn't want to do.

Option No. 1A should be Farrior playing the middle, with Porter at one rush end and Bell at another. At this point, is Bell any worse rushing the passer than Jason Gildon? It's worthy of debate.

But Cowher won't send Gildon to the bench, just as he never benched Lee Flowers last season, even though it was apparent Flowers was the weak point in the team's pass defense and Mike Logan was sitting behind him on the bench.

Farrior will still see some time on passing downs as an inside linebacker in the nickel defense, but his days as an every-down player appear to be over.

"I'd like to be out there," said Farrior, who has 21 total tackles and one interception. "But if the coaches feel it's best for Joey to be in there, then I'll do what's best for the team."

Farrior had 81 total tackles last season, his first with the Steelers after joining Pittsburgh as a free agent. He recorded 181 tackles in 2001 for the Jets, but knows that's not a number he can match with the Steelers because their 3-4 system adds an extra linebacker to the mix to share tackles.

His current pace would put him over 100 tackles, but losing time in the dime will make it difficult for him to achieve that goal. "I'd like to do that, but if it doesn't happen, oh well," Farrior said.

"Our linemen have done such a good job freeing me up in the first three games, they've made it easy."

Second on the team with 19 tackles this season is cornerback Dewayne Washington.

Farrior said all of the defensive backs have done a great job in run support, but also added that the linebackers have three of the team's four interceptions. In addition to Farrior, Bell and Gildon have picked off passes. Cornerback Chad Scott has the only interception for players in the secondary.

"We're letting them hear about it," Farrior said with a laugh. "They've had some opportunities and dropped some. I guess we have better hands.

"But they've done a good job in run support. Every time I flow to a hole, there's one of our DBs there filling it with me. They're doing a good job and the picks are going to come." They just won't be coming for Farrior in the dime.

Dale Lolley

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