Saturday, October 27, 2007
Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The top-ranked defense in the National Football League is expected to be without two starters and its nickel back when the Steelers play the Cincinnati Bengals tomorrow at Paul Brown Stadium.
Defensive end Aaron Smith (knee sprain) did not practice all week and has been declared out, ending a streak of 115 consecutive games in which he has played, including playoffs. Free safety Ryan Clark (inflamed spleen) also did not practice this week and is not expected to play against the Bengals. He is listed as doubtful.
Smith, who sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee against the Broncos, will be replaced by Nick Eason, who was signed in free agency in the offseason. Anthony Smith will replace Clark at free safety.
Also, backup cornerback Bryant McFadden, who missed the past two games with a high ankle sprain, is not expected to play even though he has resumed practicing on a limited basis. He will be replaced as the nickel back by rookie William Gay, who has filled that role the past two games. McFadden is also listed as doubtful.
Bengals running back Rudi Johnson (hamstring), who did not play last week, has not practiced and is not expected to play. He is listed as doubtful.
"It's getting better, I'm able to do a little more," McFadden said. "But, from a rehabilitation standpoint, they don't want to put me out there and set myself back."
Woodley gets into the game
Despite playing as a pass-rush linebacker in most third-down situations in the preseason, rookie LaMarr Woodley said he has not performed that role in the nickel or dime defensive packages in the regular season.
Nonetheless, despite a limited of number of plays in the base defense, Woodley is tied for third on the team with three sacks. He had a sack and forced fumble despite playing just three snaps against the Denver Broncos.
"That's what you have to do whenever you get in there, you have to take advantage of the time you get because you might not get back in there," said Woodley, a No. 2 draft choice from Michigan. "Just try to make something happen with the little time you got."
Woodley might have one of the best sacks-per-play averages in the National Football League.
He said he did not appear in scrimmage play in Arizona, played just one snap against Seattle, three against the Broncos, "four or five" at the end of the game against the Cleveland Browns and "five or six" at the end of the game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Woodley's longest appearance was against the Buffalo Bills, when he played the entire second half (35 plays) after linebacker James Harrison was injured right before halftime. All of his appearances, he said, have been in the base defense, not substitutional packages.
"You are talking about a guy that has probably played 65 or 66 snaps of defense and he has three sacks this year," coach Mike Tomlin said.
"That tells us we need to play him more."
However, Tomlin said Woodley, a converted defensive end, is not a candidate to replace the injured Smith.
"You would kind of think that because they had me going in on third down in the preseason, doing a little bit of this, that hopefully during the season I might be doing it," Woodley said. "But it didn't work out that way. I'm not going to sit back and complain. It's just something that happened."