Dec 28, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (94) takes the field during player introductions against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
We’ve reached the final chapter of profiling the best linebackers in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. So many great players have already been covered but it didn’t end in the second part of this series. With this final profiling, it probably could go on even further. With that said, the first man up was a mammoth linebacker with unusual quickness.
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Levon Kirkland: Probably the biggest linebacker in Steelers history, Levon Kirkland surprised opponents with peculiar speed despite his size. At 6’1” and playing around 275 pounds, Kirkland would finish his career with 11 interceptions but was an outstanding tackler as well. He topped 100 tackles just once in his 11 year career, nine of those in Pittsburgh. His sophomore season he finished with 103 but in 1997, he made 95 tackles, had two interceptions and added five sacks. The season before, the “Blitzburgh” Steelers saw Kirkland intercept four passes.
A product of Clemson University, Levon Kirkland would play for the Steelers from 1992 until to his surprise he was released in 2001 for the reason the Steelers provided as a salary cap move. Kirkland would sign with the Seattle Seahawks and start in every game in 2001.
One more season would end his career as Kirkland finished with the Philadelphia Eagles, starting for them in 15 of 16 games and playing in the NFC championship that season won by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, Levon Kirkland started in 124 of 144 games and averaged nearly 86 tackles per season. He also forced 14 fumbles during his days in the ‘Burgh and recovered nine. A very popular player, Kirkland now coaches linebackers at Alabama A&M University. Tragically, his wife passed away from lung cancer several years ago, and eerily, his cousin is current Cincinnati Bengal Devon Still who’s daughter is famously battling Neuroblastoma stage 4 cancer.
Mike Merriweather: Peruse the history of players who took the gridiron for the Pittsburgh Steelers throughout the club’s history and you will find players that became stars while playing college ball at small universities. Mike Merriweather was no exception.
A graduate of University of Pacific, the university is private and was established long ago in 1851.
In 2014, the enrollment was just 6,717. Yet, it turned out a very talented football player named Merriweather who would be drafted in the third round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1982. Merriweather would player six seasons with the Steelers and be named to three Pro Bowls as well as becoming an All-Pro three times.
Of 85 games wearing the Black and Gold, Mike Merriweather started in all but nine. He would leave the Steelers after registering 31 sacks and recovering nine fumbles. He also intercepted 11 passes for the Steelers and scored on two of those. Four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings from 1989 to 1992 were followed by a stint in 1993 with both the New York Jets and Green Bay Packers.
But during the mid 1980s, Merriweather was one of Chuck Noll’s best linebackers.
The Stub Allison Award – Given to Loren Toews in 1972
Loren Toews: It was often said during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dynasty years of the 1970s that Chuck Noll had players behind his starting 22 that could start on most other NFL teams. Loren Toews was a linebacker that probably fit that profile.
Stuck behind Jack Lambert, Andy Russell, and Jack Ham, Toews was relegated to a backup role despite his wealth of talent. He would play 11 long seasons in the National Football League all with Pittsburgh and appear in 149 games. But Toews could only manage 59 starts throughout his career. Toews still managed to pick off four opponent’s passes and make 10 fumble recoveries.
Highly underrated because of the men in front of him, Toews is also highly intelligent having earned a degree in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Berkeley. During his senior year in college, Loren Toews received an award named the Stub Allison Award who’s name was derived from former and late California head football coach Leonard B. “Stub” Allison who passed in 1962. The honor is given to the player who is deemed “the most inspirational.” Toews also has an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Business in 1981.
Toews did get lucky enough to start in Super Bowl XIII won by the Steelers and he replaced an injured Andy Russell in Super Bowl IX. These days, Loren Toews is 63 and sells real estate in the San Francisco area.
Lawrence Timmons: All this linebacker conversation brings us to 2015. It seems that there has never been a season since the 1960s that didn’t see the Pittsburgh Steelers have at least one if not more outstanding linebackers on the field. Heading into this next season, Lawrence Timmons will be the leader among linebackers having established himself in that role and by putting up outstanding numbers. With two sacks in 2014 with 90 tackles and 49 assists as well as not missing one game, Timmons proved he is Pittsburgh’s best linebacker on the roster.
Despite getting his career off to a slow start and taking several seasons to become a full-time starter, Timmons has blossomed into a Pro Bowl player making that annual game for the first time last year. Since becoming the starter in 2009, Lawrence Timmons has played in 94 games, and started all but two. He hasn’t missed a start since 2010 and has started in 67 consecutive games.
His durability is without question. On a trivial note, #94’s birth name was Lawrence Olajuwon Timmons. His middle name came as a result of his mother being a huge NBA fan and wanting her son to have the name of Pro Basketball Hall of Famer, Hakeem Olajuwon.
When Lawrence Timmons lines up at linebacker this season, he will be joined by Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones, and at times Sean Spence, three young men who also have bright futures. Vince Williams is a quality linebacker as well. There are still many men who played linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers that are worthy of profiling. Unfortunately, City of Champions Sports cannot publish books online! It would take a book to accurately detail all the players who shined at linebacker for the Black and Gold.
So they are not skipped, an honorable mention is placed on these other football players who can be recognized as fine linebackers for the Pittsburgh Steelers:
Earl Holmes, Hardy Nickerson, Carlos Emmons, Clark Haggans, Jerry Olsavsky, John Reger, Mike Vrabel, and David Little. Odds are that some have not been mentioned but the bottom line is clear…the Pittsburgh Steelers throughout the history of the NFL have fielded the best linebackers ever.