We kick off this series with the most talented and explosive player on the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. For years, that player was safety Troy Polamalu. But at this point, there is a changing of the guard. This honor now belongs to linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
This young man is easily one of the top inside linebackers in the league and is probably the least recognized. Part of what makes him so good is his ability to play multiple roles in the Steelers' 3-4 defensive scheme.
Let's take a closer look:
|Lawrence Timmons, Inside Linebacker|
Two things jump off the screen when studying Timmons.
First, is his outstanding athleticism. Timmons is still listed at 234 pounds, but when you consider that was his weight in college and you look at him now, you can see he's bigger. He's probably closer to 245 pounds. But the extra weight does not slow him down.
The second thing that really stands out about Timmons is how he is used in the Steelers' 3-4 defense. The key to a great 3-4 defense is versatility, and a player like Timmons gives them an absurd amount of flexibility. He can stuff the run, rush the quarterback and drop into coverage from either inside linebacker spot or as an outside linebacker.
Don't believe it? Let's take a look.
Here we see Timmons lined up in a traditional role as the left-inside linebacker.
The left side is Timmons' natural position. When it looks like an obvious run down, you will see him here. He does a great job working through traffic. His pursuit is exceptional, and while he does get overly aggressive at times, the product cannot be denied.
In the same game, Timmons switches it up and moves to the right-inside linebacker position.
This image is to illustrate a point.
During the 2013 preseason, when Timmons played on the right side, it was almost always a situation where he was playing pass coverage. In this picture, Timmons gets speedy wide receiver Donnie Avery in zone coverage. Quarterback Alex Smith recognizes the mismatch, and gets the ball to Avery.
With Avery's speed, you would have assumed he would just run away from Timmons, but instead, Timmons makes the turn and catches Avery from behind. You cannot fault Timmons for giving up the catch, but he saved a long gain with the chase and tackle.
On multiple plays, Timmons got very deep in coverage at the snap and shadowed offensive players. This allows the Steelers to stay in their base defense against personnel groupings geared toward the pass.
A new twist here is Timmons lining up at left-outside linebacker as a pass-rusher.
From a schematic standpoint, this is a great new wrinkle.
You can see that Timmons and LaMarr Woodley line up on the same side of the formation, forcing the offense to address this.
At times, Timmons just rushed off the edge. Other times, he ran a twist with the other linebacker on that side and rushed from the inside.
The Steelers love to use exotic pressures and zone-blitz packages. Having Timmons on the outside like this adds a whole new dimension to these sets.
If you wonder about Timmons' speed, here's an image to illustrate just how fast he can close.
On this play, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins cannot find anyone open so he opts to scramble. You can see from this picture the distance Timmons has to cover as Cousins begins to scramble to the sideline.
It's safe to assume Cousins thought he'd avoid the big hit then get out of bounds, but Timmons caught him short of the sidelines and made the clean, textbook tackle.
When you analyze Timmons, there is so much to love about his game. This is a franchise that has had some Hall of Fame caliber inside linebackers, and while Timmons isn't in that group, he is one of the most versatile and productive linebackers to ever wear the black and gold.
This is the first in what will be an ongoing series of articles that will break down some of the top Pittsburgh Steelers players.