By Scott Brown
June 26, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- He sat at a table with Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor a couple weeks ago, and there was nothing remarkable in itself about Joey Porter chatting up his former teammates in a cafeteria.
But watching Polamalu and Taylor listen intently to Porter, it seemed like 2005 all over again. That's when the two were young players following the lead of the brash, fully charged linebacker who may have been most responsible for the Pittsburgh Steelers ending a quarter-century Super Bowl drought that season.
A couple of hours later, Porter revealed just how much time has passed since he was the soul and guts of a defense in which players fed off the emotional lather that once possessed "J Peezy" to try to board theBaltimore Ravens teams bus after a game because he had unfinished business with none other than Ray Lewis.
Talking about his fledging coaching career after a minicamp practice, Porter candidly said, "I don't have all of the answers. As a player I would say something slick like I knew it all. As a coach I've got to be humble because I don't."
A humble Joey Porter? That must mean up is down, black is white and Johnny Manziel is a recluse.
But watching Porter lead the linebackers in a drill during offseason practices or give pointers to one of the players he is now mentoring served up proof that the five-alarm fire that drove him as a player has simply been transferred to Porter's latest endeavor.
"I'm a coach like I played," said Porter, who joined Mike Tomlin's staff as a defensive assistant in February. "I'm going to coach with my emotion. The coaching staff that I have the opportunity to work with is amazing because these guys know exactly who I am."
Indeed when linebackers coach Keith Butler told his players about Porter trying to get on the Ravens' bus, something that shaped his "J Peezy" persona in Pittsburgh, he didn't relay the story just to draw laughs.
He was trying to make a point.
"Joey always had that kind of barn boss attitude when he played," Butler said, "and we need some of that."
Yes, they do.
The Steelers managed just 34 sacks last season, their lowest total since 1990, and their defense scares nobody this side of their own fan base.
Tomlin didn't just hire Porter to pump up the volume at Steelers' headquarters and instill swagger in the linebackers' meeting room. The latter will work closely with 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones, who plays right outside linebacker, the position that Porter owned during his eight-year career with the Steelers.
Jones played extensively as a rookie but managed just one sack. It is critical for a defense that slipped appreciably in 2013 that Jones makes a big jump in his second season.
Jones has gotten stronger and the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder will play faster this season because he has a much better grasp of the defense.
Meanwhile, Porter can only help Jones develop a repertoire of pass-rushing moves, something that was lacking from his game last season.
"Pass rush is all [about] believing that you can beat the guy and execute your craft," said Porter, whose 60 sacks from 1999-2006 rank fifth on the Steelers' all-time list. "You've got to work on it. You just can't go out there and not do pass rush during the week and go out there and expect to get a sack on Sunday. It's not that easy, so you have to really work. That's what I'm trying to get him to do is just work."
It would be an understatement to say that Porter has a willing protégé in Jones.
"I'm in his head every day, always asking questions, always trying to figure out the best way to do it," Jones said. "He's always on my butt about just grinding. Not saying that I don't push myself but he's always after me just to keep me going. There's always a next level and that's what he's brought to our whole unit."
There is a limit to how much Porter can help the Steelers' defense though he has kept himself in the kind of shape that suggests he is not far physically from the days when he tormented quarterbacks.
But Porter, who retired after the 2012 season, is clearly serious about coaching and is not just doing it while he figures out what he wants to do with the rest of his life.
Porter spent last season as an assistant coach at Colorado State, his alma mater, and he said he wants to go as far as coaching will take him.
"I can't see myself putting on a suit and tie and sitting behind a desk for eight hours. That would just drive me crazy," Porter said. "I need the smell of the grass. I need to be out here on a football field. I feel like I'm at my best when I'm out here. Even though I can't play no more I still feel like I have a good opportunity to help kids who want to get there."
He is still a kid himself in that he is only 37 and is just getting started in coaching. Porter is young enough that a handful of his former Steelers teammates are still in the locker room he once dominated with his force of personality.
Polamalu and Taylor jokingly remind him of how things have changed by occasionally calling him "Coach Porter." But Polamalu, who is nearing the end of his playing career, knows how valuable it is having Porter back in the Steelers' building.
"He really embodied the Steelers' way and the Steelers' attitude," the veteran strong safety said.
Now coach Porter just has to do it in a different capacity.
"I see all these young guys now. I used to be that," Porter said. "Fifteen years in this business, working as a player [and] now being a coach. In time I don't care who you are, you will humble yourself at some point in time when you get older, and I can just say I'm older. I'm wiser than I was at 22."