By Jim Wexell
Posted Mar 20, 2007
The Steelers have taken an interest in one of the highest-profile 3-4 outside linebacker prospects in the country. His performance at last week's pro day is what sold Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert.
Maybe it's not a coincidence that the Steelers have taken an interest in Lamar Woodley. They both kind of share a motto.
Oh, be sure, it was long ago and far away when Chuck Noll made his phrase "Whatever it takes" a cornerstone of Steelers lore. But when Woodley, the small-but-high energy defensive end from the University of Michigan, was asked how he'd be able to make the transition to outside linebacker in the NFL, he said the magic words:
"Whatever it takes." Why, perhaps Woodley was born to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. At least that's the thinking from the Steelers' end less than a week after Woodley's pro day performance. The Steelers, along with three other teams, signed him up for a personal visit on the spot.
The Steelers, of course, would like Woodley to play outside linebacker in their 3-4. He's 6-foot-1 1/2, 265 and ran a 4.71 40. Rumor has it that Woodley was on his way to a 4.6 40 on his second attempt, but tripped and finished at 4.77.
Perhaps more impressive was his 38 1/2-inch vertical jump, or his 35 1/4-inch arms, which were longer than every other defensive lineman at the combine, except for one: Gaines Adams had him by half an inch.
But most impressive is the motor Woodley used to register a Michigan-record 12 sacks last season. He led the Big 10 in sacks, had 16.5 tackles for loss, set a school record for career forced fumbles (10) and was named the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year. The Michigan co-captain also drew rare raves from his conservative coach, Lloyd Carr.
"I expected him to be a great football player," Carr told The Detroit News in summing up Woodley's career. "But he's been an incredible leader. He plays with great passion. He's been absolutely sensational."
Sounds like Steelers material. But can he play outside linebacker?
"It's something that I have to adjust to, something I have to learn, something I'd be willing to do and I'm willing to do it," Woodley said. "When you're willing to do ssomething, you can adjust to things a little faster."
Whatever it takes.
"My sophomore year at Michigan I played a little bit of outside linebacker, but it was mainly rushing, " he said. "In practice I did a lot of dropping back and working on pass coverage and all that, but game time it was more of a rushing-type of thing."
That's what all the scouts say. Those who like him say, "Great motor. Knows how to get to the quarterback." Those who don't like him say, "He's only a pass rusher."
That might just work for a Steelers defense in desperate need of a pass rusher.
As a sophomore, Woodley started 10 games at outside linebacker and had 16 tackles for loss and four sacks. He was named Defensive Player of the Game in the Rose Bowl and was named second-team All-Big Ten.
Woodley was moved to a rush linebacker position as a junior and then was a strict defensive end this past season, when he won the Lombardi Award (top lineman), the Ted Hendricks Award (top defensive end) and was a first-team All-American. He also recorded a sack against Wisconsin's Joe Thomas, and that may have been his greatest achievement.
However, Woodley was held in check against Ohio State, and again in the Rose Bowl against USC. He did recover a fumble against Ohio State, and recorded the school-record 12th sack against USC, but the scouts were paying close attention and they weren't exactly thrilled, so Woodley's stock dropped.
"He's been overlooked a little bit since the season ended," NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said at the combine. "But he's the kind of guy, when you put the tape on, he makes plays. He's a bit of a tweener. If he can run a 4.6 at his size, that would be tremendous. What's going to be more important is watching how he moves in the linebacker drills. Can he turn and run? Is he a natural knee-bender? I think he's going to be a solid second-round kid."
The Steelers didn't talk to Woodley at the combine, but Woodley didn't work out there, either. He'd aggravated a hamstring injury while training and didn't workout until Friday's pro day.
Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert were there in Ann Arbor. Obviously, Woodley answered the questions Mayock put forth, and the fact the Steelers are set to take the next step means he answered them in the affirmative.
"Don't let the height fool you," Woodley said. "If you turn on that film, you'll see me battling some of the biggest guys and putting them down on the ground and going in there and hitting the ball loose and stuffing the run. I'm the type of guy who's going to go out there and get it done, no matter what."
Right. Whatever it takes.