Larry Foote understands why his friends are leaving

March 5, 2012 10:41 am

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Steelers linebacker Larry Foote started the cell phone conversation on a sad note by saying "all my friends are leaving." He called the team's termination last week of Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and best pal James Farrior "devastating." Then, he put into poignant words the agony a veteran player experiences when his team sets aside all sentimentality -- as it must -- and makes a purely business decision. "We're all grown men, but we've been lucky enough to make a good living playing a kids' game. Most of us have been playing since we were 8 years old. When they tell you it's time to hang up your cleats, it's tough."

It's the brutal reality of professional sports.

No one plays forever.

"I know my day is coming, too," Foote said.

Maybe next offseason.

Foote appears to have survived this Steelers' purge. He is expected to take over Farrior's inside linebacker spot, which the two shared last season. He would call the defensive signals and make sure everyone is lined up properly.

"Without a doubt, I can do it. My play speaks for itself," said Foote, who, at 31, is 5 1/2 years younger than Farrior. "I'm sure they'll draft a young guy and there will be a lot of competition. That's fine. I can hold my own."

Foote made the same prediction about the Steelers defense. "We're still going to have a talented team, without a doubt. We were the No. 1 defense in the league last season. I don't know why people forget that."

I'm not sure I'm buying what Foote is selling there. That defense gave up a 92-yard drive in the final 2 1/2 minutes to the Baltimore Ravens in a killer loss at Heinz Field and allowed the NFL's worst quarterback -- Denver's Tim Tebow -- to throw for 316 yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs. I'm also not sure the leadership void left by the departures of Ward, Smith and Farrior will be easy to fill. "We've got a bunch of leaders," Foote insisted. "The young guys have to step up and take a bigger role. I've got to step up."

Foote said he was prepared for Smith to retire because he had major neck surgery in October, the fourth time in five years that Smith's season ended prematurely because of an injury. But the news about Ward and Farrior hit him hard. "We're entering uncharted water now. Hines has been around since '98, Farrior since 2002. Man, I've been with those guys for 10 years. There never will be a time in my life again that I spend so much time with a group of guys. It's going to be different."

First Published 2012-03-04 23:17:07

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