It\’s been four months now since Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that an anonymous Pittsburgh Steelers player told him that outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley was awful and out of shape in 2012. On Wednesday, however, linebackers coach Keith Butler told the media following the Steelers final practice of the offseason that he thinks Woodley looks good right now.
“Whatever he did, it appears to be right,” Butler said per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “The biggest thing is we\’ve got to keep him on the field. LaMarr is a prideful man. He understands he has to play at a certain level to fulfill his contract, you might say. He\’s working on it.”
The “whatever” that Woodley did this offseason included him training in Arizona at Performance Enhancement Professionals at the urging of his teammate Ryan Clark, who has trained there himself for several offseasons, and while Woodley won\’t tell anybody how much he weighs, it must be within a range that Butler is comfortable with, as the coach has called out the linebacker in the past.
“He just wasn’t in shape,” Butler said last August when talking about the 2011 version of Woodley. “He’ll tell you that. If he don’t tell you that, I’ll tell you that, I don’t care. He has to get his big butt in shape, I tell him that all of the time: Don\’t come to camp weighing 290.”
Despite starting the 2011 season heavier than Butler probably wanted him to be, Woodley did manage to record nine sacks in the Steelers first eight games prior to injuring his hamstring in that eighth game against the New England Patriots. After missing several games with the injury, he did manage to return to the field later that season but was pretty much a non factor.
Woodley suffered yet another hamstring injury early on last season in the game against the Philadelphia Eagles and that injury, combined with an ankle injury suffered later in the season against the Cleveland Browns, resulted in the Michigan product only registering four sacks and 39 total tackles in 2012.
While the Steelers defense has ranked first in the league in pass defense the last two seasons, their sack and turnover numbers haven\’t been where they need to be. The defense is at its best when there is consistent pressure put on the opposing quarterback and that pressure usually comes from the two outside linebackers. Last season, Woodley, James Harrison, Jason Worilds and Chris Carter all combined to register just 15 of the teams 37 total sacks. In 2011, the Steelers outside linebackers had 21 combined sacks, but only 7 came in the final seven games of that season.
With Harrison now gone, it will be up to Woodley and Worilds to provide what the defense has lacked the last two seasons. The Steelers did draft Jarvis Jones in the first round this past April, but the only way he sees the field during his rookie season is if Worilds isn\’t delivering on the right side. It is imperative that Woodley not only stays on the field in 2013, but produces at or near the same level he did in 2009 when he recorded a career high 13.5 sacks.
We might never find out who the anonymous player was that ripped Woodley after last season, and it really isn\’t important if we do at this point. What is important, however, is that Woodley isn\’t anonymous on the left side of the Steelers defense in 2013.
Keep “working on it,” LaMarr and keep doing “whatever” it is that you\’ve been doing this offseason.