For so many of these Dolphins’ veteran pickups, the question is what exactly are the Dolphins getting. With tight end Julius Thomas, are they getting the player who caught 24 touchdowns in 28 games with Denver or the one who wasn’t a difference-maker in Jacksonville? With Nate Allen, are they getting the starting-caliber safety from his tenure in Philadelphia or the middling backup of the past two years in Oakland?
And with Lawrence Timmons, are the Dolphins getting the player who was consistently ranked by Pro Football Focus among the league’s top linebackers for several years or the one who was ranked 70th of 87 last season?
“They signed me;. I don’t feel like there’s no dropoff there,” Timmons, 31, said Tuesday when asked if playing a ton of snaps over 10 seasons, and starting every game for Pittsburgh the last six, has led to any decline in skills. “I feel I can cover, stop the run, can blitz the passer.”
Those who evaluated Timmons in Pittsburgh the past two seasons have come away with different opinions.
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Even though he had 114 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble last season, PFF ranked him among the bottom quarter of linebackers and said his play has been “in steady decline” for two years.
His 21 missed tackles were third-most among all linebackers in 2015 and his grade against the run last season was fifth-worst among all linebackers. PFF also criticized his pass coverage. “Timmons is now on the wrong side of 30, so even if he has a bounce-back, it’s unlikely he returns to his previous production levels,” PFF asserted.
But Steelers radio analyst Tunch Ilkin said, by phone: “I don't go by what Pro Football Focus says. I trust my eyes over some web site. I don’t think he’s a player in decline.
“As he's gotten older, he's developed really good instincts. He makes plays with his eyes. As a young player, he would surprise you with his speed, how quickly he got to plays. With that speed, sometimes you over-run plays. One of the things he has gotten much better at is playing the backside of a run, anticipating the cutback. Is he as fast as he was five years ago? No. But he's fast enough.
“He gets there in a hurry as a blitzer. He would surprise running backs with his speed. I remember he ran down Chris Johnson in Tennessee, and Johnson was a 4.2 guy. The thing that impresses me most about him is his toughness. He plays play in, play out, week in, week out. And I think he's fine in coverage.”
Timmons said he played every linebacker position in Pittsburgh and isn’t sure what position he will play here. Timmons and Kiko Alonso can both play the middle or outside, and defensive coordinator Matt Burke has spoken of alternating Timmons, Alonso, Koa Misi and rookie second-rounder Raekwon McMillan among three positions. The Dolphins also have Neville Hewitt and Mike Hull, among others.
“I am used to being interchangeable,” Timmons said. “I’m like a fixer. We still don’t know [where we’ll be playing]. I could be outside. I could be inside. I try to be a utility guy.”
He said coming here was a “pretty easy” decision because he has an offseason home in South Florida and he liked the “energy” in the Dolphins building.
“For 10 years, it’s crazy coming here to different colors,” he said. “It’s been an experience for me.”
People still tease him about video of Timmons vomiting in the end zone during the Dolphins’ 30-15 stomping of Pittsburgh Oct. 16.
“It’s the story of my life,” he said. “I get it everywhere. ‘You’re that guy that was throwing up in the end zone.’”