Lawrence Timmons leader of young Steelers linebackers including 4 1st-round picks



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LATROBE, Pennsylvania — Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons finally reached the Pro Bowl last season after an eight-year wait.

He'd happily exchange it for a spot in the Super Bowl, which will depend a bit on how quickly the young linebackers around Timmons mature.

"We didn't finish where we wanted to last year," Timmons said. "We didn't win a playoff game. We definitely have that taste in our mouths. We want to go out and start the year off right."

Timmons, a 2007 first-round pick, was a second-year player on a veteran defense loaded with experience the last time the Steelers won the Super Bowl.

Now, the 29-year-old Timmons enters his ninth season as the third-oldest starter on defense, the unquestioned leader of a young linebacking corps that features four first-round picks.

He has enjoyed taking on more of a leadership role, serving as a voice in the locker room and mentor to the team's young linebackers.

"I just feel like I've been in more situations," Timmons said. "That makes you better because you're battle-tested and nothing surprises you anymore.

"I try to be a leader because I'm an older guy. I try to set an example of how we play."

Pittsburgh invested first-round picks in its linebackers the previous three seasons, partly an attempt to boost sagging pass rush numbers. The Steelers finished 26th last season with just 33 sacks, four years after leading the league with 48 sacks and appearing in the Super Bowl.

They look to 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree, this year's first-rounder, to solidify the outside, while fleet-footed Ryan Shazier, the top pick in 2014, joins the still speedy Timmons in the middle.

It's a group with promise and pedigree and Timmons believes they can take the next step.

"We know we've got it," Timmons said. "It's just putting it together now, playing for each other, knowing each other and where we're going to be.

"We just have to take this camp seriously and grow together."

Timmons, who has eclipsed 100 tackles in three of the last four seasons, isn't through evolving either. He wants to build off a 2014 season that saw him reach the Pro Bowl for the first time.

"I just feel like I'm an unfinished product," Timmons said. "I could tackle better, I could be better in coverage, I could've forced more sacks and fumbles. I feel like all facets of my game, I could've done more."

He's leaning on Steelers All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell as a training partner.

Bell finished second in the league in rushing, and in all-purpose rushing and receiving yards last season. The two have frequently squared off at training camp, sparring during Timmons-slanted blitz pickup drills and one-on-one coverage designed to give the elusive Bell space in open field.

"He's a great cover linebacker. one of the best in the business," Bell said. "(Timmons) is a Pro Bowler. He's a great player and he's been around for a long time. We both make each other better."

Timmons wants to help improve his group of young linebackers, too in the hopes that it can take the Steelers back to the Super Bowl.

"I think we can go as far as we want," Timmons said. "We have to be detailed in our assignments and just play for each other. It's nothing complicated. I feel if we do those things we'll be fine."

NOTES: The Steelers activated center Maurkice Pouncey (foot sprain) from the physically unable to perform list and he participated in Monday's practice. . Eli Rogers (foot sprain), Isaiah Lewis (hamstring), Dan McCullers (hamstring), Ramon Foster (stinger), Josh Harris (shoulder), Martavis Bryant (elbow), Markus Wheaton (hamstring), Shamarko Thomas (shoulder), Ross Ventrone (leg) and Mike Mitchell (hamstring) were among several Steelers who didn't practice. The team is off Tuesday and returns to practice Wednesday.


AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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