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Linebacker Timmons' stock up with Steelers

James Farrior described a recent hit on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, and the Steelers' venerable inside linebacker punctuated his play-by-play with a "Pow!"

What he said about Lawrence Timmons, who delivered the jarring hit, proved to be even more of an eyebrow-raiser than Farrior getting animated about a play that happened in a preseason game.

"I really feel like he can be the best defensive player in the league," Farrior said.

Farrior is hardly alone among his teammates in his belief that Timmons stands at the brink of a breakout season.

The push from good to great starts Sunday in Baltimore, where the renewal of arguably the best rivalry in the NFL will feature stellar play from star-studded groups of linebackers.

No 'backer on either team might be more on the rise than Timmons, given the five-year, $50 million contract he signed last month and that Farrior isn't prone to hyperbole.

When told of Farrior's statement, Timmons said in surprise, "Oh really. That's a heck of a statement there."

Indeed it is considering the wealth of defensive talent concentrated in the Steelers' locker room. Among three of the past NFL Defensive Player of the Year winners are strong safety Troy Polamalu (2010) and outside linebacker James Harrison ('08).

There also is outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who has recorded at least 10 sacks in his first three seasons as a starter, joining Harrison as the only players in Steelers' history to accomplish the feat.

Not that Timmons is a newcomer to the hits parties the Steelers' defense throws on a regular basis. He led the Steelers in tackles (149) in 2010, despite fading a bit in the second of the season.

And the 15th overall pick of the 2007 draft, coach Mike Tomlin's first with the Steelers, blew his cover long ago — at least among teammates who marvel at his ability to hit like a falling tree and shadow tight ends and running backs in pass coverage.

"He's got a huge burst to the ball," Polamalu said. "He's very instinctual."

When asked if the 6-foot-1, 234-pound Timmons, who also can play outside linebacker, is the best athlete on the Steelers' defense, Polamalu said, "Probably."

Timmons has taken awhile to find his footing since there are so many established players around him, but that isn't the only reason.

He played just three seasons at Florida State before declaring for the 2007 NFL Draft. Football became his job before he had celebrated even his 21st birthday.

That helps explain why, as Farrior said, "I didn't know what his voice sounded like when he got here. He wasn't saying anything in the meeting room."

Timmons won't get any votes for chattiest player on the team. But he does seem more comfortable in a locker room that is filled with dominant personalities.

"I was 20 years old, so there's quite a difference," Timmons said. "I guess I've grown up some."

Timmons celebrated his 25th birthday in May, and he and Woodley, 26, head the vanguard of young players with which the Steelers plan to one day reload.

Woodley said neither he nor Timmons has played his best football.

"We haven't outright made it to the Pro Bowl yet," said Woodley, who made the Pro Bowl as a reserve in 2009. "This year, hopefully, we'll get that opportunity."

Men in the middle

The Steelers aren't the only team associated with top-shelf linebackers. "The Steelers and the Ravens, I think, are by far the quality linebackers of this league," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said Thursday. Here's a look at the Ravens' starting linebackers:

OLB — Terrell Suggs: Four-time Pro Bowler has 10 12 career sacks against Steelers, his second-most against any opponent.

ILB — Jameel McClain: Finished third on Ravens in tackles last season (91), his first one as a starter.

ILB — Ray Lewis: Has 305 tackles in 25 career games against the Steelers, the most stops he has against any team.

OLB — Jarrett Johnson: Has played in 113 consecutive regular-season games, the longest streak in Ravens' history.

Source: Ravens

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