PITTSBURGH » Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is finding it difficult to be patient with Lawrence Timmons.
Tomlin calls the inside linebacker "ridiculously talented," though Timmons has yet to have the breakout season expected before now of the No. 15 pick in the 2007 draft.
Timmons’ teammates are convinced the former Florida State star has more speed, power and drive to the football than any player on the Steelers’ defense other than safety Troy Polamalu. Still, any discussion about Timmons often begins with what he hasn’t done in his three seasons — make the Pro Bowl.
He hasn’t yet reached an elite level. He’s not yet a complete player. He’s not yet ready to take over from James Farrior the job of running the defense.
"It’s time," Tomlin said. "Lawrence has been around here long enough."
Long enough to win a Super Bowl. However, it is another 2007 draft pick — second-rounder LaMarr Woodley — who’s taken on a bigger role in what was the NFL’s top-ranked defense two seasons ago. Woodley led the Steelers with 13 1/2 sacks while making the Pro Bowl last season and had 11 1/2 sacks in 2007. Timmons had seven sacks last season and five as a part-time player in 2008.
Inside linebackers generally don’t accumulate sacks in a 3-4 defense like outside linebackers. Regardless, the Steelers believe there’s a lot more in the 6-foot-1, 244-pound Timmons that has yet to be seen during games.
They see it in practices and at training camp, but not always on Sundays.
"He has to have a big year in order for us to be successful," linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "And I think he will, because he feels more comfortable. If he stays healthy, then he will develop the way that we have envisioned that he’ll develop. And he’ll be a factor."
Timmons missed two games last season with a hamstring injury that lingered for most of the first half of the season and hampered his production. He also was bothered by injuries to both ankles.
Farrior, who plays alongside Timmons, also believes there’s a lot more to come, starting with the Sept. 12 opener against Atlanta. Before then, the Steelers close the preseason with games Sunday at Denver and Sept. 2 against Carolina.
"He’s a tremendous athlete and a good kid, but I feel like he’s still learning," Farrior said. "We really haven’t seen everything he has to give. The injuries, I think, have held him back. They weren’t real bad, but they were nagging. I believe he’s only scratched the surface so far. There’s a lot more we can see from Lawrence."