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Steelers' Foote in charge of huddle

| Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, 10:26 p.m.
Steelers linebacker Larry Foote plays against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers linebacker Larry Foote plays against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Larry Foote was tasked with running the Steelers' defense when James Farrior was released after the 2011 season.

“The talk all offseason was how we were going to replace James Farrior,” Foote said. “There's a lot of responsibility on the (right inside) linebacker with the way the defense is set up.

“In the fourth quarter, guys are counting on you, so you have to be cool under pressure. I don't want guys worried about whether I'm going to keep the train moving.”

The train appears back on track, even with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sidelined indefinitely with rib and shoulder injuries.

“We took our lumps early on, but I love the way we responded, especially after the Tennessee game,” said Foote, who had seven tackles in last week's loss to the Ravens. “It was a disappointing loss against a team we should have beaten.

“But we knew everything was fixable. We looked in the mirror and turned this thing around.”

The defense turned to Foote for leadership and an emotional lift after the 26-23 loss at Tennessee on Oct. 11.

Foote, 32, has transitioned easily into the leader of the NFL's top-ranked defense. More important, he has re-established himself as an integral part of the defense as he did while making 80 consecutive starts and winning two Super Bowl rings for the Steelers before Detroit lured him back to his hometown with a free-agent deal prior to the 2009 season.

“It's his huddle,” linebacker Chris Carter said of Foote. “But he doesn't feel like he's too good to play special teams.”

Casey Hampton, a veteran nose tackle, was confident Foote would energize a defense that staggered early in losses to Denver, Oakland and Tennessee.

“Farrior was always the guy, but there were never any questions of Larry being able to do it,” Hampton said. “It was never a question of, could he lead?”

“It's really the toughest job on the field,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “Larry has been around here just as long as Farrior, so he understands the position, and making the transition to making the calls is easy for him.”

Foote has led by example. Arguably his biggest contribution can be measured by the progress of young linebackers Jason Worilds and Carter, who started three games for Harrison.

“He might not be as athletic as some other linebackers,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “Sometimes we get caught up in how freakish the guy might look, how fast, (and the) explosion plays guys might do, and we forget about guys like Foote, who consistently lines these guys up in the right place.”

In 2008, even with the Steelers marching toward another Super Bowl triumph, Foote was overshadowed by Polamalu and Harrison. Even though Foote was a starter, Lawrence Timmons was visibly focused in his rearview mirror.

Admittedly, Foote wasn't willing to split duty — something he hadn't the previous four seasons.

“I had a talented guy playing behind me in Lawrence Timmons,” said Foote, who started five games in 2011. “We started sharing some time, so I felt like it was my time to go. It was the competitive side of me wanting to play all the time. I quietly asked to be released or traded.”

The Steelers obliged.

Foote, after seven seasons in Pittsburgh, would put together a solid season in the Motor City. He led Detroit with 99 tackles — including 70 solo tackles. But the Lions stumbled and fumbled to an embarrassing 2-14 season.

Foote insists it wasn't the winning he missed. It was the camaraderie.

“I just knew that I left something special,” he said. “What we had in Pittsburgh was bigger than football.

“With free agency, the Steelers were interested in bringing me back.”

The Steelers needed someone to spell an aging Farrior, who spent 15 years in the NFL. So they re-signed Foote to a three-year, $9.3 million contract.

“I was cool with playing behind Farrior, but I still had to prove I can play,” Foote said. “There have been some big-money guys who are no longer here because they didn't get it done. Everybody can't play here. Everybody can't wear the black and gold.”

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