Lions' Larry Foote Returns to His Football Roots

Jeff BarrContributor IMay 8, 2009

PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 16:  Larry Foote #50 of the Pittsburgh Steelers claps his hands during the game against the San Diego Chargers on November 16, 2008 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Larry Foote has come home to Detroit. And it couldn’t be more timely for a team seeking a renaissance.

The return of the former Pittsburgh Steelers middle linebacker to his hometown is one of several additions to a Detroit Lions defense that ranked last in the NFL in 2008. According to Lions coaches and many fans, it is among the most important pieces to help solve the team’s defensive puzzle.

Foote’s addition is the latest and perhaps most important addition to the Lions defense. The former Detroit Pershing High School and University of Michigan standout knows how to win. He spent seven years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, including their NFL Super Bowl championship season in 2005.

“It’s my home,” Foote told reporters Wednesday, May 6, at the Lions’ practice facility in Allen Park, Mich. “So that was always going to be in the back of my mind—what it would be like playing at home. With the way things were going in Pittsburgh, I saw the Lions get a new coaching staff and thought, ‘What a great opportunity to come home.’”

Foote, who spent his entire seven-year NFL career with the Steelers, is the second linebacker and sixth defensive player to join the Lions. Detroit’s weak defense has been part of the reason the Lions struggled in 2008. Julian Peterson will join Foote in the linebacker corps; cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon, Anthony Henry, and Eric King will give a completely new look to the secondary; and defensive tackle Grady Jackson will beef up the Lions’ line.

The defense is loaded with new personnel, as is the front office that hired them and the coaching staff that will guide them. First-year Lions General Manager Martin Mayhew and Team President Tom Lewand, whose title no longer includes "interim" after taking over from former President Matt Millen last year, have both given the revamped Lions coaching staff solid material with which to lead a Lions comeback.

If first-year Head Coach Jim Schwartz and Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham don’t make the defense click, it won’t be for lack of front-office effort. The six Lions newcomers represent a new face at every defensive category—line, linebacker, and secondary.

“Linebackers and DBs—it’s a mentality,” Foote said at the news conference announcing his signing. “You want to tackle or you don’t want to tackle. You can be 250 or 220. If you want to bring a guy down, you’ll bring him down.

“I just want to get better mentally.”

Foote awaits the opportunity to line up in the Lions’ 4-3. The Steelers played the 3-4. In Pittsburgh’s scheme, the defense is geared toward the outside. The 4-3 is designed to force the action to the middle, where Foote will be waiting.

In his short time as a member of the Lions, Foote has discovered the defensive scheme isn’t the only positive facet of the coaching staff.

“Schwartz is a fun guy—I like him,” Foote said. “He’s a down-to-earth guy. He knows his football. I talked to him yesterday for about and hour and he’s just sharing his thoughts and personality. I felt comfortable.”

Foote’s comfort is important as he tries to help resurrect a team that sent an NFL record for futility in 2008 by finishing 0-16. But there is another intangible possible when a player with a winning history joins a struggling franchise.

Osmosis, perhaps?