The Steeler Way. The Linebackers – Joey Porter.

The Linebackers, part 1.

Linebackers are the heart and soul of the Steeler defense. For over forty years, more often than not, Pittsburgh’s defense has been among the elite units in the NFL.  Many great LBs have worn the black and gold. They have been cerebral, athletic, loud, reserved, violent and/or lightning fast. At their best, the linebackers corps have exhibited all of these qualities in one group.

Blitzburgh LBs have earned 57 Pro Bowl nominations since 1968. Two have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Lambert, Russell and Ham were the foundation. Lambert handed the torch to Little, Cole, Merriweather and Hinkle in 1984. Hardy Nickerson and Greg Lloyd joined Hinkle and Little and ushered in the 1990s. Along came Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland and Chad Brown, a formidable unit who with Lloyd lead the Steelers to a Super Bowl appearance in the 1995 season, their first in 16 years.

Soon came Jason Gildon and then Joey Porter taking the Steelers sack machine into the 21st century. The Rooneys soon signed James Farrior and then drafted Larry Foote bringing into recent memory. Clark Haagans joined Potsie, Foote and Joey, winning SB XL. Gildon and Porter were replaced by James Harrison and Lamaar Woodley and that group lead us to another Lombardi trophy in 2008. Lawrence Timmons replaced Foote and the Steelers got to the Super Bowl two years later.

The Steelers have retooled on the run once again. Timmons anchors the middle with Ryan Shazier and excellent backups in Spence and Williams.

Deebo is still going strong at age 37, leading a rotation with first rounders Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree and strong veteran, Arthur Moats.

This is a great time of year to write about Steelers linebackers. Regardless of the defensive scheme, this position group has been the core of the Steelers’ frequent playoff runs.

I love linebackers. For me, it is the glamour position on the Steelers. Linebackers make a lot of the splash plays that are fun to watch. Despite our growing pains this year, we will have a great defense again, likely showcasing the young LBs now on the roster.

As I wrote this, I was anticipating another playoff run.  Sunday, our chances were severely damaged by the Ratbirds. Whether we’re in the playoffs or not, we’ll look at some of the good guys who played the LB position and did it the Steeler Way. We start with one of my favorite good guys, former OLB and current assistant coach, Joey Porter.

Joey Porter

I remember the 1999 preseason well. Actually, I remember Joey Porter’s preseason quite well.

The Steelers drafted Joey in the third round out of Colorado State. Before the preseason, I didn’t know Joey Porter from Cole Porter. Back then, I could not follow the Steelers like we do now. Those were the days of dial-up Internet and well, you remember. You didn’t surf the web, you kind of waded.  Living in Harrisburg, we got the preseason Steelers games which, after a long off-season, I watched eagerly.

During the ’99 preseason, he played significant time at right outside linebacker. Carlos Emmons, steady, but unspectacular, was the incumbent ROLB. Porter lead the team during preseason with 22 tackles, 18 solo. He also had four sacks. Joey was a monster – mobile, agile and hostile, as the saying goes. He played every play with a fiendish intensity. After his preseason tear, Joey Porter was already my favorite Steeler.

In 1999, the Steelers were coming off back-to-back losing seasons following the the departure of Greg Lloyd. For those of you young ‘uns, Greg Lloyd was a fiery All Pro leader of the Steelers defense. The Steelers missed his fire and leadership. From day one, I had no doubt that Joey was a special player and I eagerly awaited his chance to play.

As the 1999 season progressed, Joey saw more snaps as he learned the defense. In 2000, Joey won the right side LB job and with, Jason Gildon on the left side, the Steelers were once again a formidable sacking defense.

Peezy, as he was known, brought an emotional, vocal, nasty attitude to the defense, something every dominant defense needs. Defenses dominate with big plays, violent collisions, and emotional fervor. They terrorize QBs and stuff RBs. I can’t think of any dominant defense that didn’t play this way and who didn’t have at least one vocal, hard hitting leader. For his time as a Steeler starter, Joey was it.

Porter continued to excel through his eight year career with Pittsburgh, earning 60 sacks. In 2004, he had one of his best seasons, amassing 56 tackles and 10 1/2 sacks. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl, their first title since the 1979 season.

Unfortunately, Joey became a victim of the salary cap in 2006. He was due a large roster bonus in 2007. That combined with the emergence of James Harrison lead to his departure. As much as I love Deebo, it was a sad day when Joey left and signed with the Dolphins. After a so so season in 2007, he proved he still had plenty left in the tank. In 2008, he lead the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks, the most of his career. He played three seasons in Miami and another two at Steelers West (Arizona) before retiring after playing thirteen years.

Peezy wished to retire as a Steeler and the Rooneys cooperated, signing him to a one day contract. He officially retired at training camp at St. Vincent August 3, 2012.

In retirement, Joey turned to coaching. After spending a year at his alma mater, Colorado State where he coached and finished his degree, he returned to the Steelers in 2014, as a defensive assistant under Dick LeBeau. When Keith Butler was elevated from Steelers linebacker coach before this season, Joey was named co-linebacker coach with Jerry Olsavsky.

By all available evidence, Porter is a very competent position coach. Jarvis Jones has made decent progress this year on the right side, sharing snaps with Deebo. Bud Dupree has played well as a rookie, despite being labeled a project coming in. He has played much more that anyone expected, even with the availability of the dependable veteran, Arthur Moats, who splits snaps with Dupree.

Joey has continued to be a vocal his vocal leader on the sideline. He is often seen coaching his young linebackers and exhorting the defense in his inimitable Peezy style. In perhaps the biggest game so far this season, Joey gave a fiery halftime speech (likely, more a tirade) which seemingly lit a fire under the defense, which shut down Denver in the second half. The comeback was the largest for the Black and Gold in 18 years.

Joey dealt with some temper issues, once getting ejected from a game with the Browns before it started. Many of you will remember Joey and William Green getting physical during warm-ups, ending in both players being ejected.

I love this trash talking, emotional alpha coach. If he is able to impart the passion he played with to his young LBs, a seventh Lombardi trophy may not be too far distant.

Joey explained his coaching style in a BTSC article, linked here:

I’m a coach like I played, said Porter, who joined Mike Tomlin’s staff as a defensive assistant in February. I’m going to coach with my emotion. The coaching staff that I have the opportunity to work with is amazing because these guys know exactly who I am.

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler said:

Joey always had that kind of barn boss attitude when he played, Butler said, and we need some of that.

Indeed we do.

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