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Timmons stated his case before he started

Lawrence Timmons started at inside linebacker for the first time in the preseason in the Steelers' exhibition finale Thursday night against Carolina.

The move was necessitated by a knee injury to Larry Foote, but the promotion was no less appropriate.

Timmons had done everything else since the Steelers reported to Latrobe.

It remains a matter of conjecture on whether Foote will have returned to his familiar stomping grounds by the time the Steelers next report to Heinz Field, this time for a game that matters Sept. 7 against the Houston Texans.

But it's no less of an inevitability that Timmons eventually will set up shop in Foote's customary spot next to James Farrior in the Steelers' defense.

As they wrestle with the final cuts, the Steelers ought to also consider Timmons' improvement, upside and combustibility and ask themselves, why not now?

It's not that Foote, a seventh-year pro and former fourth-round draft pick, has slipped.

He remains as combative and reliable as they come, a heart-and-soul leader on the field and in the locker room. He's a guy who was good enough to start on a defense that helped the Steelers win a Super Bowl a couple of seasons ago.

It's just that Timmons, a second-year player and former first-round selection, can do things Foote can't.

Those things are referred to as "splash plays," by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, and they're made by players who possess what Tomlin characterizes as the "R-H factor."

Timmons has a PhD in R-H.

He can run and he can hit, and he's done so repeatedly this exhibition season.

He's chased down dump-passes in the flat and limited them to little or no gain.

He's lined up against wide receivers and successfully covered them into the end zone.

He's blown up quarterbacks.

Timmons even blasted teammate Dezmond Sherrod onto the sideline for a stretch after Sherrod had the misfortune of drawing Timmons in a now-memorable "Backs-on-'Backers" drill.

Sherrod wound up with a sore neck and a scolding from Tomlin.

And since returning Sherrod has earned for himself a reputation as a pretty decent blocker.

Timmons did none of those things on Thursday night in a start that lasted about a quarter and a half.

Still, the Steelers now know what he can do.

They're already playing him over Foote in passing situations and on just about every special team imaginable.

The time for Tomlin to go ahead and commit completely to his first No. 1 pick has seemingly arrived.

Timmons still has some issues sorting through traffic on interior runs, and it's been said that he's occasionally in the wrong gap.

But those splash plays can make up for a multitude of such mistakes.

In the meantime, the more he plays the more assignment-proficient he'll become.

And if he gets as good at that as he already is at wreaking havoc, the Steelers will have discovered and developed their next great linebacker.

Farrior can shepherd Timmons through the rough spots in the meantime.

The alternative is to wait until after the bye week on Oct. 12 to make the switch, after tough games at Cleveland, at Philadelphia and at Jacksonville have been played.

But either way his time is coming.

Better to start the Timmons era sooner rather than later.

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