When the Pittsburgh Steelers signed LaMarr Woodley to a six-year $61.5 million contract prior to the 2011 season it was for one reason. He could get to the quarterback and was one of the top up and coming young defenders in the NFL.
Halfway through the 2011 season it looked like the Steelers had made a solid investment in Woodley. He had nine sacks and an interception through eight games and was in talk for the NFL defensive player of the year award, but then everything changed.
During the Steelers eight game of the season Woodley had Tom Brady on the run and had already sacked him twice. Then Woodley was coming around the edge again on his way for possibly his third sack of the game and he came up lame with a hamstring injury.
He was only able to play in two more games that season and was not very effective. in 2012, injuries plagued Woodley for the second straight season. He played in 13 games, but he was battling injuries in many of those games and left multiple games early.
Following the season there was a lot of talk about Woodley needing to get into better shape for the 2013 season. He is being paid to be the Steelers top defensive player and a quarterback’s nightmare and he wasn’t able to do that in 2012. As things stand now, though, it looks like the old Woodley has returned.
Linebacker coach Keith Butler said that Woodley is “where we need to have him” and that the linebacker “looks good.” He also mentioned that Woodley has lost a good amount of weight and is in very good shape this off-season and that work should translate to on-field success.
However, Woodley is also hoping for more opportunites to get after the quarterback in 2013.
“I felt I dropped back a lot last year in coverage,” Woodley said via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
There was talk during the middle of the 2012 season about Woodley dropping back into coverage more than in years past, but with the pass-happy NFL there are more offensive players to cover.
“That’s part of this scheme,” Woodley shrugged.
With 2008 defensive player of the year James Harrison now gone the Steelers need Woodley to be their play-maker on defense. That means getting to the quarterback and having a player, like Woodley, that can pressure the quarterback and get sacks will help to also create more turnovers.
“I’d definitely like to get back to doing more rushing than dropping back in coverage because my game is predicated on sacks,” Woodley said, “and this defense is predicated on getting to the quarterback, making quarterbacks make bad decisions and allowing our secondary to make plays.”
Even is Woodley isn’t sent on more rush opportunities he is hoping to make the most of the ones he gets.
“Other linebackers across the league rush a little more than I do. When my number’s called, I just have to make it count and get home.”
Woodley was also content that the Steelers defense relies on having two strong outside linebackers. With Harrison now gone either Jarvis Jones or Jason Worilds will have to step up and be that other guy.
“It’s definitely important. Here in Pittsburgh, the outside linebackers play off one another. When there’s always two [good] outside linebackers here, they both had a lot of sacks, and they both helped the team out because you can’t focus on just one guy, you have to focus on both guys.”
That has been the recipe of the Steelers defense for the long time. Whether it was Harrison and Woodley, Joey Porter and Clark Haggans or Greg Lloyd and Kevin Green the Steelers have always relied on not one but, two solid outside linebackers.
As for Woodley he is hoping to live up to his side of that and he wants to do so by getting after the quarterback.
“They pay me to rush,” Woodley proclaimed. “Hopefully, I’ll be rushing and not covering receivers and tight ends down the field.”