To truly understand the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers is to understand the importance of all the peripheral details. Take, for example, inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons. In the big scope, we see Timmons, a 6?1?, 234-pounder who plays with an upright posture that makes him looke 6?4?. Speedy agility and fervid tackling suggest that the 23-year-old could one day be a star.
But look closer; 2009 will be Timmons’s debut as a starter. The significance here is symbolic; Timmons was a first-round draft pick in ’07. By spending his first two seasons as a nickel linebacker, he became Pittsburgh’s only first-round draft pick since 1996 to not regularly start by at least his second season.
Think about this for a moment. The league-wide success rate for first-round draft picks is somewhere around fifty percent. Since ’99, the Steelers have basically batted 1.000.
Timmons is replacing veteran Larry Foote in the lineup. Foote is one of just two starters from last year’s Super Bowl squad not returning. The other is cornerback Bryant McFadden. McFadden, like Foote, was replaced from within (third-year cornerback William Gay will now start).
Timmons will be flanked by third-year stud LaMarr Woodley and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison, forming the best outside linebacking duo in football. Like Timmons, Woodley and Harrison both began their Steeler careers as backups.
Pittsburgh’s trend of in-house replacements is even more startling along the offensive line. Left tackle Max Starks, once a backup to Marvel Smith, just signed a four-year, $26.3 million contract. Next to Starks is left guard Chris Kemoeatu who, for his first three years, backed up Pro Bowler Alan Faneca. Kemoeatu inherited the starting job last season and played well enough to receive a five-year, $20 million contract. His counterpart, right guard Darnell Stapleton, spent a year on the bench before taking over for injured veteran Kendall Simmons last season. The undrafted Stapleton is heading towards a long-term contract himself in the near future. And should he, for whatever reason, tail off, third-round rookie Kraig Urbik will be primed to start.
Are you seeing the point here? The NFL is all about change. The Steelers, by grooming their own backups into starters, always remain one step ahead of the curve. They don’t endure change––they embrace it. The Patriots and Colts are the same way. This is what wins Super Bowls. Yes, having superstar quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger helps. But there are also superstar quarterbacks on teams that fight change instead of welcome it; those quarterbacks become Pro Bowlers, not Champions.
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