Al Woods Back Where He Belongs After Roundabout Journey Across The League

By Matthew Marczi

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Al Woods is being given a fair bit of attention this week, and rightfully so after his impressive start to the 2013 preseason, registering six solo tackles, including two run stops, and a sack against the New York Giants on Saturday.

Woods has only been with the team since November 9th, 2011 outside of a stint on the practice squad the year before, but to me, it has always felt like he was a Steeler. I had always been under the impression that the Steelers liked Woods in the range in which they drafted linebacker Thaddeus Gibson in the fourth round in 2010, so when they lost Gibson off waivers, I looked at their claiming of Woods on September 4th, 2010 as a draft do over. That is, until the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him off the practice squad a few months later.

That is why I found the story that Bob Labriola relayed on the Monday edition of Steelers Live so interesting, in that it confirmed the team’s interest in Woods dating back to the 2010 draft—and what’s more, their seemingly realistic hope of acquiring him later on down the line:

Al Woods has had an interesting road here. The Steelers really liked him in the 2010 NFL Draft, but the New Orleans Saints picked him in the fourth round. I remember when that happened there were some scouts kind of bemoaning that fact, and they also said “well, we’ll get him when the Saints cut him because the Saints play a 4-3, and he’s a 3-4 guy”. Sure enough, he was cut by the Saints on September 4, 2010, the Steelers signed him to their practice squad on September 8th, 2010.

Of course, that is not a direct quote from any scout on the topic, and I have no verification of my own, but it would be interesting if the team truly liked the chances of the Saints releasing Woods, for whom they traded a sixth round pick in order to move up to draft.

Of course, as mentioned, the Steelers only signed Woods to their practice squad, already having Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, Chris Hoke, Nick Eason, Casey Hampton, Ziggy Hood, and Steve McLendon on the roster. As already mentioned, the Buccaneers ended up scooping him up off the practice squad following a rash of injuries, and he recorded 17 tackles for them. But there is an interesting connection with that transaction as well:

“Then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked him off the Steelers’ practice squad; the Buccaneers had hired the Steelers’ scouting intern at that time. He was at that time a full-time scout with the Buccaneers—maybe he had something to do with Al Woods ending up down there”.

I have no idea if the Steelers put in a waiver claim for Woods after the Buccaneers released him the following training camp, but it likely would not have mattered anyway. Having been the runner-up in the Super Bowl in 2010, the only team that they had a claim over was the Green Bay Packers, which they found out after attempting to claim Gibson back.

However, they did put in a claim for him after the Seattle Seahawks released him later that November, and this time they made sure to keep him on the 53-man roster, releasing defensive end Corbin Bryant from the practice squad after the move. It was not a surprise when the Seahawks released him either, however, according to Labriola. “The Seahawks also really don’t play a defensive scheme that is conducive to Al Woods’ skills”, he said. “They cut him on November 8th, the Steelers claimed him on November 9th, 2011, and he has been on the Steelers’ roster, practice squad, bouncing around since then”.

Woods battled Bryant in training camp last year to be the fourth defensive end, but although he won the battle, he still saw very little playing time. Now that he has had a full year and a second training camp in the Steelers’ system, Woods should be coached to defensive line coach John Mitchell’s liking, and he should be counted on to contribute in a rotation during his fourth season.

While a roundabout trip back to Pittsburgh may have stunted his development, Al Woods seems to be right where he belongs in 2013: making plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as he should have been since 2010. It will be interesting to see how his play and versatility helps shape the team’s roster over the next two seasons. Do they keep one less nose tackle this year? Would they be less inclined to re-sign either Hood or Keisel next year because of his emergence—assuming neither are extended this year? Time will tell. Woods is not a given by any means at this point, but his arrow is pointing up.

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