View Full Version : Steelers linebacker Foote finding his stride

11-02-2011, 06:51 AM
Steelers linebacker Foote finding his stride
By Ralph N. Paulk
Wednesday, November 2, 2011

If home is where the heart is, then Larry Foote rekindled his love for Detroit.

The former University of Michigan linebacker signed a free-agent deal with the Lions prior to the 2009 season after spending eight years with the Steelers. Even though he had earned two Super Bowl rings, something was missing.

"Larry had to leave to see what it's like somewhere else," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "He needed to do that."

Foote, who is perpetually energetic, desired the cheers of the hometown faithful. He wanted to be closer to his family and friends, who surfed every wave of emotion with him from the Motor City to the Steel City.

After scaling the mountain of the NFL, it was all downhill in Detroit. The Lions staggered and stumbled to a 2-14 record in Foote's lone season home.

"He got a chance to come back here," Butler said, "and we were happy to get him back. It's worked out well for all of us."

Foote, the Lions' captain and leading tackler, played a significantly lesser role when he returned to the Steelers last year. His playing time was limited mostly to special teams during the Steelers' march to Super Bowl XLV. So, it took a while before Foote hit his stride after being inserted into the starting lineup when linebacker James Harrison injured his eye at Houston.

"I'm not making any excuses, but I was a little rusty because I didn't play that much last year," Foote said. "I was making mistakes and doing things I don't normally do."

On Sunday, Foote did extraordinary things in helping the Steelers' defense overwhelm the usually cool and unflappable Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady. He was solid against the run in helping limit New England to 43 yards rushing, as the Steelers beat the three-time Super Bowl champions for only the third time in 10 games.

Foote had only 27 tackles last season. Already, he has 31 tackles including a game-high eight in the 25-17 win over New England.

In a season in which injuries have plagued the linebacker corps Harrison, James Farrior and Jason Worilds have dealt with health issues Foote assumed a starting role at inside linebacker when Lawrence Timmons moved outside to replace Harrison.

"Unfortunately, my number was called because of injuries," Foote said. "It's a lot different being a starter because there's a lot of new stuff. Seeing it in practice is one thing, but it's totally different in the game."

Now, expectations are higher for Foote when the Steelers face another AFC playoff contender Sunday at Heinz Field. The Ravens exploited the Steelers linebackers in a season-opening, 35-7 thrashing a game that saw Foote come off the bench early for Farrior.

"Obviously, he knows what to do because he's a veteran," Timmons said. "It's definitely been an advantage for him. You can tell he's comfortable because he's making a lot of plays. But what has impressed me is the fact that he plays on the scout team and he starts.

"It says lot about what an unselfish player he is."

And after some early season jitters, Foote is confident he's back on top of his game.

"I'm getting more comfortable, which means I'm playing faster," Foote said. "Almost every team we play has attacked us differently, especially with blocking schemes. In previous years, they would try us with a couple of runs. Now, they are trying different stuff we're not used to, but we're correcting it."

Foote and the defense practically crippled the Patriots' pass offense: The Steelers' top-rated pass defense allowed only 170 yards via the air.

"We've gotten better in our coverage schemes," Foote said. "But we aren't anywhere near our peak. Everybody's got to play better with the stakes getting higher."

The Ravens aren't likely to face the same team they pushed around during their easy victory in Baltimore. Collectively, the Steelers' linebackers are playing with far more confidence.

And no one, it seems, has elevated his game as much as Foote. In his second stint with the team, the veteran is feeling right at home in the starting lineup.

Ralph N. Paulk can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923 .

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