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Steelers, top pick Timmons agree to terms

PITTSBURGH (July 22, 2007) -- Outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, the No. 15 pick in the NFL draft, agreed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on a five-year contract.

Timmons became only the third first-round pick in the April draft to reach terms and the first in the upper half of the draft. Previously, the only first-rounders under contract were 49ers offensive tackle Joe Starkey (No. 28) and Bears tight end Greg Olsen (No. 31).

The deal was reached less than 24 hours before the Steelers become the first NFL team to open training camp with its full squad and fulfilled first-year coach Mike Tomlin's goal of having every player signed by the reporting deadline.

"It is important because the train starts moving at 4 p.m. Monday," Tomlin said. "It is tough to get on a moving train if you haven't tried before."

The Steelers will be pleased enough merely to get Timmons onto the practice field. Timmons, relatively inexperienced for a first-round pick after starting only one season at Florida State, injured a groin on the first day of the Steelers' initial minicamp in April and missed the rest of their offseason workouts.

Losing that practice time was a setback to Timmons, but Tomlin said he is healthy now.

The Steelers have long had a policy of wanting to get their first-rounder signed by the first day of camp, and might have decided to give Timmons a five-year contract rather than the six-year deal allowed under NFL rules to make sure he didn't hold out.

The 6-foot, 234-pound Timmons wasn't seen as a first-round pick until last season, when he replaced former star Ernie Sims -- a Lions 2006 first-rounder -- at strong side linebacker to make 126 tackles, 22½ for losses, eight sacks and one interception. He also had two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries and blocked three punts on special teams during his college career.

With former Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter now with Miami, Timmons figures to play much sooner in Pittsburgh than he would have previously. He will get a chance to push new starting right outside linebacker James Harrison, an undrafted former backup. He might get practice time at inside linebacker since Tomlin likes his players to play multiple positions.

The Steelers will have two new pass rushers in camp, with second-round linebacker LaMarr Woodley of Michigan also getting a shot to play immediately. Pittsburgh has three returning linebacker starters in its 3-4 system in outside linebacker Clark Haggans and inside linebackers Larry Foote and James Farrior, but wants to improve a pass rush that had only 39 sacks last season.

Because the Steelers added the two rookie pass rushers, they are considering removing Haggans during passing downs to play one of them.

The Steelers' only other previously unsigned pick, cornerback William Gay of Louisville, signed a three-year contract. He was the second of their two picks in the fifth round.

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