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Timmons breaks mold of Pittsburgh's linebackers

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Timmons breaks mold of Pittsburgh's linebackers

PITTSBURGH (AP) James Harrison rarely holds back when it comes to controversial comments.

Larry Foote's a congenial chatterbox on and off the field.

And among great Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers of the recent past, Joey Porter was known for his trash talking and James Farrior for his vocal leadership.

Something about the position, maybe.

Then, of course, there's Lawrence Timmons, arguably the best linebacker for the best statistical defense in the NFL. Timmons hardly fits the mold of a loud and rambunctious Steelers linebacker - past or present.

But he's just as productive, if not more. And he will be in focus when his Steelers (6-3) face the Baltimore Ravens (7-2) in an AFC North showdown Sunday night.

``Man, if Lawrence says more than two words to you, I guess you're his friend,'' Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton quipped. ``I might not be his friend. I don't think he's said more than two words to me since he's been here.''

Quiet and mild-mannered in the Steelers' locker room, Timmons maintains a steely focus when he's in the heat of battle. And the Steelers will need that this week.

The freakishly athletic former first-round pick is in his fourth season as a starter, but he's still the junior member of a veteran Pittsburgh corps. With Harrison and Foote in their 30s and LaMarr Woodley shaking off nagging hamstring injuries, Timmons has been the Steelers' most consistent playmaker at linebacker.

His interception of Matt Cassel and 23-yard return inside the Kansas City 10-yard line set up the winning field goal early in overtime of a 16-13 victory over the Chiefs Monday.

``He told me that he was one of the top offensive prospects coming out of high school, and I used to deny that,'' Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. ``But after that run he made Monday night, I think he's got a point.''

The 75-year-old LeBeau chuckled. But he wasn't joking a few moments later when he said, ``I think Lawrence has been playing at a Pro Bowl level for several years now.''

Timmons has yet to be selected for a Pro Bowl. LeBeau said that's because he's been overshadowed on his own team by the likes of Harrison, Woodley and Farrior, who have seven berths between them.

In the Steelers' 3-4 scheme, it's the outside linebackers who rack up the sacks. Timmons has played there at times for Pittsburgh, but he's settling into his inside spot next to Foote. That hasn't taken away, though, from the versatility that might be his greatest asset.

``I feel like I can fill in anywhere to help the defense,'' Timmons said. ``I love getting put in the game plans and I like being in spaces where I can make plays. That means a lot to me.

``(LeBeau) has set up things for me to roam around, play in space - which I love doing - and also blitz the passer. It's fun.''

A chiseled 6-1, 234 pounds, Timmons is big enough to be an effective tackler but fast enough to be a strong safety. That's exactly how LeBeau sees it. When Foote calls Timmons ``the Troy Polamalu of the front seven,'' it's because of his polite and soft-spoken ways. LeBeau actually uses Timmons as the Polamalu of the front seven.

Particularly with Polamalu out with a calf injury for much of this season, Timmons has increasingly been playing in centerfield on passing downs.

``Each year, he's just been getting better and better - and lately he's started to be a big-time playmaker for us,'' Foote said. ``The sky's the limit for Lawrence.''

That's a familiar offseason refrain in Pittsburgh about Timmons, who has shown some flashes of brilliance but hasn't been the consistently dominant player that the 2007 No. 15 overall draft pick should be. In the past 12 years, franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the only player the Steelers have drafted with an earlier pick than No. 15.

It seems as if every summer, Timmons is the popular choice as Pittsburgh's ``breakout'' player. That talk was amplified when he signed a six-year, $50 million contract extension in August of 2011.

But now, he seems to be living up to it.

``I'm always trying to be real hard on myself,'' Timmons said. ``I hate to make mistakes so I'm always concentrating and I try to be real focused. I'm always trying to be the best.''

On the field, there's no question. Competing in a locker room game of shuffleboard of table tennis, Timmons' intensely competitive nature shines through, as well.

But when he's not competing, the ``good ol' quiet Southern boy,'' as Foote puts it, comes out. Early in his career, a common sight in the bustling and crowded pre-practice locker room was Timmons flat on his back, a jersey over his face for an early-afternoon cat nap.

``I guess that's him resting up,'' said Hampton, ``because on the field, he's anything but quiet. He don't say a lot, but he speaks with his pads and his play - playing hard, playing physical.

``He can keep on being quiet, saving all his energy, as long as he keeps making plays for us.''

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NOTES: LB Chris Carter was placed on injured reserve because of an abdominal injury. The team promoted LB Marshall McFadden from the practice squad to take his roster spot and added TE Jamie McCoy to the practice squad. ... RB Rashard Mendenhall practiced fully for the second consecutive day and aims to play Sunday for the first time in more than a month because an Achilles injury.

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Online:http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

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