Smart like a Fox

The Steelers may have found a veteran who can help their special teams ... and do a bit more.

LATROBE – It was the Steelers' first punt of the new preseason and the first man downfield was No. 57. He turned the play into Anthony Madison for the tackle after a 5-yard return.

That had come to be expected of No. 57 throughout his career, particularly during the Super Bowl season when he was the special teams captain. Only difference is this No. 57 is not Clint Kriewaldt, who's been replaced on the roster, and on the coverage units, and as the backup to James Farrior, by a 26-year-old free agent named Keyaron Fox.

We would hear that name again, and again, and again in the opener that Friday night. He led the Steelers in tackles with six by not only dropping smoothly into coverage, but coming up hard to the line of scrimmage and stuffing the run.

What's the name again?

"Key," he started, "air-on. Keyaron."

Do they call you Key? Or Aaron?

"They call me Fox."

So Fox, who'd been moving rather anonymously around the St. Vincent College campus the first two weeks of camp, is now being sought out for interviews after a solid performance in the Steelers' preseason opener.

"I thought I did pretty well," he said. "I'm still picking up on some of the calls and stuff, and I'm starting to feel my way through the defense a little bit."

Farrior once stood in Fox's shoes as a first-year buck linebacker in Dick LeBeau's scheme, and he too told reporters, that, oh, yes, he was beginning to understand the scheme. But years later, Farrior admitted that he never really did understand that defense his first season with the team.

"That's what I've heard, that you never really fully get it," Fox said with a bit of a relieved look. "Truly, I don't fully understand everything that goes on with this defense, but I'm trying to learn a couple positions to help me out: learn where my safety's at, learn where the front's going, learn where I've got to go, learn where to set the front. There are a lot of different things that go into it, but you keep running repetitions and it gets easier."

Fox played a bit of the 3-4 when Kansas City used it as a situational defense in 2006. But on defense, Fox was mostly a reserve right and left outside linebacker for the Chiefs from 2004-07. His specialty was kick coverage. In 40 games, he made 39 special-teams tackles. Just for a comparison, James Harrison has 45 special-teams tackles in his last 43 regular-season games.

"I've been doing the special teams for a long time," Fox said, "so I've got a few little tricks I can do out there."

"Tricks" are exactly what the Steelers need to shore up their mediocre coverage units. The Steelers gave up both a punt and kickoff return for touchdowns last season and ranked 14th in punt coverage and 16th in kickoff coverage. Fox will help that area, teach some young guys some tricks, and make sure there's depth behind Farrior and Larry Foote in the defensive captain's chair known as the buck.

But is Fox physical enough for the demanding position. He's listed at 235, but said he weighs "between Foote (239) and Farrior (243)." He's quick enough to cover – a must in today's game – and showed Friday night that he can sort through the trash and stick his helmet between a running back's numbers.

So why did Kansas City, a team that's been desperate for defensive help the last few years, let Fox go as a free agent?

"I'm not quite sure," he said. "That was their decision. They had paid big dollars to a couple of linebackers to come in and they wanted to see what they can do on the field. That's understandable in this business, so I felt like I was never really given a shot to be a starter, because every year they brought in somebody new. Thankfully I found the Steelers, so I can prove something this camp."

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