The list of linebackers next to whom Larry Foote has played in Pittsburgh is impressive.
James Farrior, Joey Porter, Jason Gildon, Clark Haggans, Kendrell Bell, John Fiala...remember Mike Jones? More recently, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons. As of Week 1, add Chris Carter and Brandon Johnson to the list.
And none of that is counting that weird year where Foote played in Detroit. Even with all this experience, raise your hand if you expected Foote to have been the Steelers most outstanding defender in Week 1.
It's ok, you don't have to lie. Foote didn't expect it either. In fact, he's been expecting each of his teams to find someone younger with a smaller contract than him for a while now.
And yet, he's still there, churning out nine tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass defensed in the 2012 season opener, 10 seasons from his first game.
Statistically, it was one of the best games of his career, starting a season that's expected by most to be his last in Pittsburgh.
Or is it?
The supposed heir-apparent, Stevenson Sylvester, is facing his second consecutive missed game, and if anything, Foote is earning a contract instead of preparing to file for pension. With all the talk of leadership lost among the Steelers defense, Foote is still there, two Super Bowl rings glistening just as brightly as Ben Roethlisberger's. Or Farrior's, for that matter, a veteran the team jettisoned in its alleged youth movement in 2012.
The contention is the Steelers showed their age over the last two seasons. It seems more appropriate to suggest they showed their youth. Even with several years of experience under his belt, Timmons still looks hesitant, and not close to the player the Steelers expected to see after signing him to a six-year, $50 million contract with an $11 million signing bonus (and a $2.5 million roster bonus in 2013).
Maybe it'll still take time for the athletic freak Timmons is to fully come into his own as a player. It's also fair to suggest Foote has reached his ceiling as a player. But if this season is going to work out for the Steelers defense, there should be four or five players who are out-performing Foote.
That will need to start in Week 2, as a power-running Jets team invades Hines Field. The Jets didn't run particularly well against Buffalo (118 yards on 36 carries) but it wasn't for a lack of effort. They pounded the ball between the tackles, opening up the play-action passing game that led QB Mark Sanchez to a big opening week.
The Steelers' linebackers will need to rein in that power running game. And give Foote a little help.