Steelers miss Porter ... or do they?
Former Steelers LB Porter is feeling heat in Miami after signing for $32 million and lacking production in the Dolphins' 0-6 start
Monday, October 15, 2007
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. had it all wrong. Last week, in the hype that always leads up to a game in which he and Joey Porter are on the same field, he told the Cleveland media, "I think Joey Porter needs a hug. He's so angry."
But Porter wasn't angry, not even after Winslow and the Browns put a 41-31 whipping on his Miami Dolphins yesterday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Beaten down, maybe. Embarrassed, for sure. Humbled beyond words.
But not angry.
It's not that Porter didn't have the right. His Dolphins -- man, that still sounds strange, doesn't it -- didn't just lose, they fell to 0-6. He was beaten by Winslow -- the man he referred to last season with a homosexual slur at the cost of a $10,000 fine from the NFL -- on a 33-yard pass play. He didn't have a sack for the sixth consecutive game, 10 in a row if you go back to last season. People in Miami are calling him a $20 million bust. And, to top everything, Fox, on its pregame show yesterday, showed tape of his March casino fight with Cincinnati Bengals lineman Levi Jones, a dust-up that led him to plead no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge and pay a $1,000 fine.
It wasn't a good day for ol' No. 55.
Porter has one other reason to be angry, of course.
He no longer plays for the Steelers.
"They miss me up there," Porter said.
A bunch of the fellows -- James Farrior, Ike Taylor, Deshea Townsend and Anthony Smith among them -- told him so late last week when they visited him at South Beach to start their long bye weekend.
"But they can't be missing me too much," Porter said, quietly. "They're winning."
The Dolphins can't say the same. Their defense -- primarily their run defense -- is the No. 1 reason. They ranked 31st in the NFL against the run before the Browns, playing without injured back Jamal Lewis, gouged them for 140 yards.
"I've never played on a defense this bad," veteran linebacker Zach Thomas said. "If we don't pick it up, we won't win a game all season."
You know who's getting the blame, don't you?
The high-priced free agent who signed a $32 million deal in the offseason, $20 million guaranteed.
"That comes with the territory," Porter said. "If a guy signs for $32 million, you expect him to go out there and put up some $32 million stats ...
"Trust me, I'm trying. I know the reason they brought me here."
Porter clearly doesn't believe he's being used properly by Dolphins defensive coordinator Dom Capers even though he won't come out and say that. He plays strong-side linebacker, lining up over the tight end. It's not like his old Blitzburgh days. He's frequently asked to drop into coverage.
"I'm making the plays I'm supposed to make," Porter said. "I could cry about it, but that wouldn't do me or the team any good. I have to buy into the system. I want to be a team-guy, not a me-guy."
The other side of the story is that Porter hasn't exactly given Capers a lot of reasons to turn him loose. He rushed on 14 of the Browns' 26 pass plays, coming close to quarterback Derek Anderson just once when Anderson ran a play-fake bootleg to his side.
"I should have had that sack," Porter said. "That's a play I make 10 out of 10 times. But I slipped right before I got to him."
The one thing Porter and the Dolphins can agree on is that the team isn't getting its $20 million worth.
"I know things are going to change and get better and we'll get to the point where I can show my best assets," he said. "You just can't have all that money tied up in one player and get no production."
The Steelers are looking smart for not doing a new deal with Porter after deciding he didn't have a lot left at 30 with a game based on speed. That still stings him, but he says he understands the "business side" of football.
"Do I ask, what if? Sure, you always ask what if?" he said. "Pittsburgh was home for me. The players there are my family. I talk to a lot of them once a week. But I didn't have the opportunity to stay. It's not like I said no to a number. I didn't get an offer."
The Dolphins make Porter happy on payday, but that seems to be his only joy these days. What troubles him the most, aside from that 0-6 record, is he is not the same force in the locker room that he was in Pittsburgh. The Steelers loved him, loved his emotion, fed off his energy. They rallied around him, for instance, when he called the Indianapolis Colts "soft" before their playoff game after the 2005 season. But that hasn't happened with his new team. He guaranteed a win against the Oakland Raiders a couple of weeks ago, then was embarrassed when the Dolphins gave up 299 rushing yards in a 35-17 loss.
"I know the guys are looking at me and thinking, 'We need to see more,'" Porter said. "I understand that. You can't be the guy doing all the talking and then not produce. I know [my locker-room presence] doesn't carry the same weight. I don't like that."
Porter was largely subdued during the game yesterday. Browns fans hung the predictable signs -- "Hugs for 0-5 thugs" was the best -- and booed on the few occasions when his name was called. They had the last laugh at his expense. So did Winslow.
"There's nothing I can take away from him today," Porter said. "He had a good game and made some plays. He just beat me vertically [on the long pass]. No way I can sugarcoat that. I have to take that one on the chin."
Winslow saved his best shot for after the game.
"I didn't even know [Porter] was out there. Was he out there? Was he even out there?" he asked.
Now that will make Porter angry.