But 2nd pick Woodley is shining in practice
Friday, June 08, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Five weeks after the Steelers flooded a team weakness by drafting outside linebackers with their first two picks, the news from the practice field is mixed.
Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette
Steelers first-round draft pick linebacker Lawrence Timmons displays his jersey as the team's top pick as coach Mike Tomlin looks on in April. Timmons has been hampered with a groin injury this offseason.
Click photo for larger image.
Second-round draft choice LaMarr Woodley's development has been unprecedented for his position. On the other hand, Lawrence Timmons, the draft's flagship choice, has made no progress on the field.
Timmons, the 15th player chosen in the April 28 draft, took his usual position in shorts and his gold Steelers practice shirt on the sideline yesterday. A persistent groin injury that hit him in his first pro practice, May 11, has kept him from practicing. He tried once last week but quickly shut things down when he realized his injury was not healed.
He might try to test the waters again next week.
"We'll try to get him a couple of reps next week and see where he's at," said Keith Butler, who coaches the team's linebackers.
Timmons is the second consecutive first-round draft choice who will have missed virtually all of the team's spring practices. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes made only the weekend minicamp last year because by NFL rule he was not permitted to join his new teammates until Ohio State finished with its final exams in June.
It's a different case for Timmons, because he at least is learning the defense, if not physically participating. The Steelers want to make sure he's ready for training camp July 23.
"You don't want to keep having a recurring problem," Butler said. "I'd rather see him get well, get healthy, make sure he's in great shape. I don't think it's possible for a rookie to understand what it's like to be in NFL shape until they've done it, until they've been around the guys who they're playing with. These two guys are no different, they don't understand what it is to be in great NFL shape."
At least Woodley is healthy and able to practice, and he has made the kind of progress rarely seen by a college defensive end converting to outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. The Steelers have him on the left side, where Clark Haggans starts, and he was dropping into pass coverage in the zone defense yesterday.
"Compared to the other guys we've had here and trying to make the transition with them, he's further along than anybody we've had," Butler said.
Usually, a player making that kind of transition does not play on defense his first season, spending most of his time as a rookie learning the position and on special teams. It could be different for Woodley and Timmons, too, provided his injury heals and he shows he can handle it in training camp.
Both are 6 feet 1, but Woodley weighs 30 pounds more than Timmons at 265. At the least, Woodley could rush the passer from end when they go to their dime defenses. They have much different plans for Timmons, when he is healthy. He's quick and speedy and versatile enough that they would like to replace Troy Polamalu with him when they are in certain passing defenses.
Replace an All-Pro safety with a rookie linebacker?
"We're going to stand him up and play him inside in that situation," Butler revealed. "Not in the middle spot, more so what Troy's doing in our quarters [defense, which uses three safeties and three cornerbacks]."
The idea is when an offense, on third down, uses three wide receivers, a tight end and a back, it's better to add another linebacker to the mix and go to what they call the nickel defense with five defensive backs and not six.
"Sometimes, it's better to have a bigger body in there," Butler said. "I think coach [Dick] LeBeau always has been partial to the quarter package. But we feel Lawrence can cover and blitz and play the run and we're going to try to utilize those talents."
There are just three things left: Timmons' groin must heal, he must get into shape and he must show them on the field he can do it.
"Lawrence's education has to continue this summer," Butler said, "in terms of trying to get into the top shape he's going to need to be in to contribute to this football team."