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Foote finds a home again with Steelers

| Saturday, June 2, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
The Steelers' Larry Foote during OTAs on the South Side May 23, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Larry Foote isn't oblivious to his surroundings and is far from being immune from the talk.

He knows what is being said about him since the Steelers released the captain and anchor of their defense, James Farrior, in March.

“I told (Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin the other day that I am having a little itchy ear hearing about the big question mark I have on me,” Foote said. “I have been a question mark since I've been a little kid, with my background and where I grew up, so it's nothing new.”

But replacing a friend, a mentor and one of the best linebackers in team history is.

Foote will be one of three new starters on defense when the season opens in three months, but he most certainly will have the biggest shoes to fill.

“We expect Larry to play and to play well,” Tomlin said.

Under Farrior's leadership from 2002-11, the Steelers finished first in total defense four times and in the top five eight times while winning a pair of Super Bowls.

“You lose a guy like James Farrior, which you're never going to replace because of all the intangibles he brings to the table. That's just impossible to replace all of that,” linebackers coach Keith Butler said.

But if there is one who can come close, it's Foote.

“I can hold my own,” he said. “I've taken the huddle of this team before in my 10 years. I know the defense. I can play.”

Foote played alongside Farrior for five years and 80 consecutive games from 2004-08 before leaving for his hometown Detroit Lions for one season in 2009.

While he mostly backed up Farrior during his first season back with the Steelers in 2010, Foote took over a larger role by replacing Farrior for multiple series at a time.

Foote played 40 percent (411 plays) of the Steelers' defensive snaps last season. Farrior played 73 percent of the snaps. In the two games Farrior was out because of an injury (Baltimore and New England), Foote logged 70 and 57 snaps, respectively.

“Larry Foote knows this defense in and out,” Butler said. “He's been in this defense for 10 years. If anybody knows this defense, it's Larry Foote. Larry Foote is a very capable starter for us, and there won't be much drop-off by having him in there.”

When the Steelers invested a first-round pick on Lawrence Timmons in 2007, Foote knew he wasn't going to be in the team's long-term plans, so he signed a one-year deal with the Lions when his contract expired.

Although Foote started 14 games and had his second-best tackling season of his career, the Lions went 2-14.

In the non-salary cap year of 2010, the Steelers lured Foote back in a reserve role. He agreed to return but only after he was assured he wasn't being signed to replace Farrior.

Two years later, Foote is OK with taking over for his mentor.

“He is 37 years old and played 15 years in this league,” Foote said. “We knew this day was going to come.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mkaboly@tribweb.com.

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