Steelers’ defense getting old – only not this old
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense knew it was getting old. But
this old? Not yet.
Due to a computer error, the Steelers’ media guide bumps up a
number of players’ ages by four years each. James Farrior is listed
at 39, Aaron Smith at 38, James Harrison at 36, Larry Foote and
Ryan Clark at 34, Troy Polamalu at 33.
Losing fourth-quarter leads five times in the same season, as
the Steelers did last season while going 9-7 and missing the
playoffs, is enough to age any defense. Only not quite this
Dick LeBeau, who turns 73 next month, is the NFL’s oldest
coordinator, so it’s probably good that database error didn’t find
its way to his biography. A scratch golfer who can shoot his age on
the right course, LeBeau doesn’t care much when his age his
mentioned. When someone calls his defense too old, however, it does
Good thing he hasn’t glanced at page 332 of the Steelers’ press
guide, which lists the team roster and all those errant ages.
LeBeau remembers hearing the same they’re-too-old criticism two
years ago, when the Steelers’ defense – tackling one of the
toughest schedules for a Super Bowl winner – put together the NFL’s
best season statistically in 30 years, leading the league in nearly
every major category. Now he’s hearing it again, even though the
Steelers’ finished No. 5 defensively last year during an admittedly
Getting old? To LeBeau, coaching players as enthusiastic and
productive as these Steelers can only make one feel young.
”I love what I do and I love the people that I do it with,”
said LeBeau, who will be cheered on by his players when he is
inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on
Saturday. ”In order for me to coach, somebody has to want me to
coach, and that’s what I have right now.”
LeBeau considers himself fortunate that he’s still coaching six
of the 11 starters from the Steelers’ Super Bowl victory over
Seattle five years ago. To him, having veteran players who know his
system and are capable of performing in it well into their 30s is
an asset, not a liability.
”I don’t mind being old,” Smith said. ”Being old in this
business can be a good thing, I guess.”
While seven of the 11 starters 30 or older, and only Lawrence
Timmons and LaMarr Woodley are 25 or younger, Pittsburgh’s defense
has remained one of the NFL’s best despite playing most of last
season without the injured Polamalu and Smith. Polamalu is nearly
unrivaled at safety for his game-changing ability, while his
teammates call Smith the key to the Steelers’ run defense.
”With those two guys healthy now, that makes our defense 20-30
percent better than what we normally were last year,” Harrison
said. ”With Troy in there, especially, a quarterback really has to
account for him. With Aaron, it usually takes two people to hold
The Steelers also brought back Bryant McFadden to play
cornerback after one season in Arizona and Larry Foote to compete
at inside linebacker following a dissatisfying season in Detroit,
where he signed so he could remain a starter.
”They certainly could be starters, but at the very least they
will give us depth and make the guys around them play better,”
The Steelers need that defense to play at a 2008 level early in
the season, when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be suspended
and fill-in Byron Leftwich will be running an offense that might be
not as productive as it likely will be when Roethlisberger
Of course, trying to prop up the offense is an age-old problem
for many defenses.
”Age is just a number,” Farrior said.