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Steelers linebackers will go as far as Lawrence Timmons can take them

It's time for Timmons to reach the high level he's flirted with in the past, and take over as the playmaking leader of the Steelers' front seven defensive unit.

Justin K. Aller

There are times Steelers linebacker looks unstoppable. It's as if Timmons himself, and not his opponents, is the only thing preventing him from making a play.

His performance against Philadelphia in Week 5 of the 2012 NFL season was like that annoying rubber band Artificial Intelligence video games use to boost the performances of its players when it's losing. He was making the kinds of plays that would make those going against him throw up their hands and ask "how the hell does he just do that?"

There are other games where Timmons seems to be less aware. Hesitant, even. It's rarely an issue of his physical ability - at only 27 years of age - Timmons has elite-level speed for linebackers. It only seems to be an issue of him diagnosing the play and getting in position to make an impact.

He figured it out three times last year for sure. He sold a blitz to Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck - who's thrown more NFL passes than all but three current quarterbacks - in a loss to Tennessee last year, stepping perfectly into the path of Hasselbeck's hot receiver, notching his first pick of the year.

Then there was the overtime interception of Chiefs QB Matt Cassel, setting up the ending of a rough defensive battle with Kansas City. He picked off Browns rookie QB Josh Weeden and returned it for a touchdown in a surprising loss to the Browns.

He was one of the few playmakers on a defense that prevented, but didn't impose on opposing offenses. It's scary to think about what Timmons could do if he puts that ability to flash to the ball and use his freakish athleticism more on a series-to-series level instead of a game-to-game.

Even with the extension given to veteran Larry Foote, Timmons needs to take on a level of leadership this year. The inside and outside linebackers groups have traded experience for youth a few times in the past - LaMarr Woodley replacing Clark Haggans, and Timmons replacing Foote. It will likely be Jason Worilds filling in for James Harrison this season, but with Timmons and Foote back on the inside, the Steelers have a solid veteran presence returning.

Timmons alone will determine the ability for this group to dominate.