CANTON – LaMarr Woodley may be having a hard time losing the five to 10 pounds the Steelers want him to lose, but he had no trouble dropping those big hips into pass coverage Sunday night.
Coverage responsibilities have been problematic in the past for college defensive ends who are making the transition to linebacker in a pro 3-4 defense, but LaMarr Woodley, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 264-pound second-round pick, had no problem in the Hall of Fame Game. He dropped 14 yards to break up the first third-down play of his NFL preseason career.
“It’s still the one thing I want to work on,” said the rookie from Michigan.
“It definitely can be improved. I’ve gotten a lot better since that first time I got up here during minicamp, I’ll tell you that.”
Not that Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin noticed any problem with Woodley dropping into coverage. Tomlin said he’s been pleased with that aspect of Woodley’s game since spring workouts. Tomlin said he was looking for something else from Woodley on Sunday night.
“I just wanted to see if he could play a conditioned game because I knew he was going to have to get more snaps probably than most,” Tomlin said. “I think he held up relatively well from that standpoint. He was able to play quite a few snaps.
“It felt like he was solid, but nothing stood out positively or negatively, so we’ll take a look at the tape and grade him and see where he is technically.”
What did Tomlin think of Woodley’s play on third-and-10?
“It was a good play,” was all the new coach would say, but he answered a follow-up question this way:
“From a reputation standpoint you worried about (coverage responsibility) when we drafted him, but nothing he has done to this point has showed us that he’s incapable of doing that. He made those kind of plays in OTAs and minicamps. He’s not a fish out of water on his feet and in coverage.”
Woodley was more than a casual Steelers fan growing up in Saginaw, Michigan. He told reporters on draft day he “had always rooted for the Steelers.” So he was a proud linebacker making his first start in his first preseason game with the team.
“It still don’t seem real to me,” he said. “I was sitting on the sidelines saying, I’m actually in the NFL, playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It still don’t seem real.”
He didn’t just put in a cameo, either. The rookie was the only Steelers defender to play the entire first half. One of his few regrets was backing off a running back at one point, when he just as easily could’ve bowled him over and sacked the quarterback.
“I know which play you’re talking about,” Woodley said. “I kind of hesitated on that. You know, you go in there and you think about getting chopped and things like that. I have to get that out of my mind and just start playing football again.”
Woodley flashed his bullrush at camp when he bowled over Najeh Davenport
at the first practice. The physical nature of his play was obvious and the vets took an immediate liking to Woodley.
And why not? He’s going to help the team, and he’s humble to boot.
“When you go out there and make a big play, you have to react almost like you made a bad play,” Woodley said. “You have to forget about it and focus on the next play, and I was just out there trying to help the team the best way I can.”
So here’s the Woodley checklist:
* He’s physical.
* He plays the run.
* He just showed he can get back in coverage.
* He pretends his big plays are bad plays in order to keep his focus.
“Hey, you just got to go out there and play hard, play with your heart,” he said.
With that attitude, a starting job is just a big play or two away.
By Jim Wexell
Posted 6 August 2007