PITTSBURGH – The Steelers don't normally ask rookies to learn two positions, but they're breaking tradition with first-round pick Lawrence Timmons.
The Steelers moved Timmons inside on Monday to begin teaching him the Mack linebacker position behind Larry Foote. But that's not all.
"He's playing three positions, to be honest with you," said linebackers coach Keith Butler.
Timmons, of course, played right outside linebacker in preseason, but because of the release of Rian Wallace, Timmons has moved inside. Timmons is also playing the dime linebacker position in the pass-downs sub-package, giving the rookie three positions to learn at once, and this after he missed the spring season and half of training camp with a groin injury.
"He's capable of learning," Butler said. "If I didn't think he was, we wouldn't make that move."
On draft day, Coach Mike Tomlin said of Timmons: "He is a right outside linebacker. He has Mack capabilities and we like what he has from the versatility standpoint, but initially he will start out at the right outside linebacker."
The plan moved along without a hitch yesterday.
"As long as he can learn both positions, he'll be a better player," Butler said. "If he knows both positions, he knows what everybody's doing. The hardest position to learn, in my opinion, is the outside linebacker first. Some of the stuff he's done in the sub-package is a carryover to inside linebacker for him, so it's not quite as hard for him."
In the sub -- or passing-downs -- package, Timmons plays the dime linebacker.
"It's also the position that Troy (Polamalu) plays and obviously we're not going to take him off the field," Butler said.
So Timmons is a back-up at all three positions, and in some cases he's third team. According to Butler, the Steelers would use Clint Kriewaldt at the Mack if Larry Foote were to get injured in a game -- "until I'm sure Lawrence knows what he's doing," Butler said.
Butler added that Timmons's best chance to get on the field "is on first and second down. When people are going three wide receivers on us, maybe we want to have another linebacker in there."
Butler stressed that Timmons will practice at all three positions throughout the season, and Timmons doesn't mind, saying "I did it at Florida State, too. I'll be fine," he said. "The more flexible you are, the better off you are. That's how I look at it."
Timmons studies his playbook 30 minutes to an hour each night before going to bed and he doesn't expect to extend that period with the new position.
"It's not as hard as outside," Foote said. "In the middle there's a lot of reacting going on. You can run a little more and you don't have to worry about taking on those big ol' linemen right at the point of attack. You've still got to take them on, but he can come downhill a little more, make it a little easy for him."
Doesn't an inside backer have to dig in at times?
"Oh, yeah, you've got to mix it up," Foote said. "You've got to understand this isn't college. This is the pros. He can learn his leverage. He's a good athlete. He's picking it up, looking better."
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