Farrior not looking back

<b>PITTSBURGH - </b>Joey Porter loves to jerk reporters around, and, well, he certainly deserved to vote for himself in this informal poll. But Porter surprisingly chose a teammate.

"James Farrior's playing better than any linebacker in the league," said Porter.


"Why?" Porter said, a cackle forming. "You ain't been watching the games?"

Good one, Joey.

Larry Foote is more serious, and he plays inside next to Farrior in the Steelers' 3-4 defense. Since Foote's a replacement for the ever-injured Kendrell Bell, he's needed a veteran's guidance and Farrior is the consummate veteran guide.

Larry, how good is James?

"Who's that?" Foote asked, a smile forming on his face too.

James Farrior?

"No," Foote said. "His name's Big Play James. I changed his name to Big Play James. That's what's been separating him from every other linebacker around the league. But now he's making those big plays and so many of them have helped us win games."

"Big Play" James will be looking for more this week, especially this week. He and the Steelers will take on the New York Jets, the team that drafted Farrior with the eight pick of the 1997 draft.

Farrior started 15 games as a rookie with the Jets and had 1.5 sacks and forced 1 fumble. He started only 11 games the next three years before returning to the lineup as a full-time weak-side backer in the Jets' 4-3. He made 141 tackles in 2001, but had only 1 sack.

In spite of all the tackles, the Jets left him available on the free-agent market, and it wasn't as though the Steelers rushed to sign him.

After a month had passed in the 2002 free-agent season, the Steelers made a final offer to their own inside backer, Earl Holmes. But Holmes used the offer as leverage with the Cleveland Browns, and after Dan Rooney tired of waiting for an answer, he turned to Kevin Colbert and said, "Call the other guy."

That was Farrior. And in his first season he made only 81 tackles as he struggled with the Steelers' system.

By 2003, Farrior proved he could handle the Steelers' buck linebacker position. He made 127 tackles to lead the team, but something was still missing. For all the tackles he'd made and for all the consistency Farrior showed from week to week, he still did not make many big plays. Through seven years, Farrior had 5.5 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries and 3 interceptions. That came to 0.8 sacks and 2 turnovers per season.

That was then. This is now: Through 12 games of the 2004 season, Farrior has 3 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries and his first career touchdown. No other player in the league can boast of having 3-plus sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles. It's caused his teammates to believe Farrior is Defensive Player of the Year timber.

"He's one of two guys I'd nominate," Porter said. "The other is Ed Reed."

After a slow start, Farrior stepped into the Big Play spotlight against Dallas when he forced three fumbles, including one in the final minutes on a sack of Vinny Testaverde that set up the Steelers' winning touchdown. Farrior was named the AFC Player of the Week.

Against the Philadelphia Eagles, Farrior returned an interception 41 yards, his career long.

Against the Cincinnati Bengals, Farrior intercepted Carson Palmer and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown in a 5-point win.

Against the Washington Redskins, Farrior's wicked hit on Chris Cooley made ESPN's top 5 tackles that Sunday.

Last Sunday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Farrior stopped Fred Taylor short of the sticks on third-and-3 to essentially preserve the Steelers' winning streak.

So Farrior's not just solid anymore. He's become the explosive playmaker the Jets once envisioned. Is he looking forward to showing them Sunday what they've missed?

"No," Farrior said. "That was a business decision and that's how you've always got to look at it. Everything worked out for the best. They're doing well, we're doing well and I'm glad to be here.

"You know, you can never look back," he said. "The decision was made and I came here. You can't look back after that."

Steel City Insider Top Stories