Fox could see expanded role with Steelers
Larry Foote had been a starter at right inside linebacker since 2004 and proved to be particularly stout against the run.
The Steelers released Foote last May but a player cut out of the same mold may take his place in the lineup, if only temporarily.
With Lawrence Timmons' status for the season opener against visiting Tennessee in question because of an ankle injury, Keyaron Fox is in line to start at right inside linebacker.
Timmons has not practiced since an Aug. 29 preseason game, and last Friday he got his sprained left ankle re-examined by doctors. Of all the things that might cause coach Mike Tomlin to lose sleep leading up to the 8:30 p.m. game Thursday at Heinz Field, not having Timmons might rank low on the list.
That is how much confidence the Steelers have in Fox, who is entering his second season with the team.
"He made plays all preseason that gave us a great deal of trust in him," Tomlin said. "This guy can play. If called upon I know he can uphold the standards of the Pittsburgh Steelers."
While Timmons will start if healthy, Fox has carved out a bigger role for himself on the defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL last season. A special-teams stalwart -- his teammates voted him a co-captain of the special teams -- Fox will also play on the Steelers' goal-line and short-yardage defense. Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams found out last Thursday about Fox's ability to stuff the run.
On the first series of the preseason finale, Fox dropped Williams, who rushed for 1,515 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, for a two-yard loss on third and one.
"I feel like one of the strong points of my game is tackling and stopping the run," Fox said. "My biggest thing is just getting to the football."
Fox got to the Steelers in March of 2008 following a signing that barely registered a ripple with other teams courting marquee free agents.
He spent four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, but Fox sustained a serious knee injury in 2005 and became expendable when the Chiefs used the 15th overall pick of the NFL draft that year on linebacker Derrick Johnson.
His arrival in Pittsburgh bolstered the Steelers' special teams as well as their depth at linebacker.
Now Fox is in line to make only the fifth start of his career. And if he plays a lot like Foote, who is now with the Detroit Lions, there is a decided difference between the two.
While Foote proved to be one of the more chatty players on the Steelers, Fox doesn't say a whole lot and prefers to stay in the background.
On the field, however, he can be a different person.
"He's a monster," Steelers outside linebacker Andre Frazier said. "Whenever you talk to him he's real relaxed, cool, calm. He's the same way on the field, but once the play starts the beast comes out of him. He's not too cool and calm when he's rocking somebody. I guess he has that inner drive that forces him to go out there and work hard every day."
That hard work could eventually lead to an opportunity to start somewhere else or even with the Steelers. If he is thrust into the lineup Thursday, there is little concern among the Steelers' coaches and players.
The same goes for Fox, who said he is much more comfortable in Dick LeBeau's defense than he was at this time a year ago.
"Last year I was able to squeak through the preseason with limited calls and making a few checks and stuff but I don't think I was really prepared for a full season and knowing 100 percent of what I was supposed to do," Fox said. "This year is a lot better for me."