Rookie Woodley big hit at OLB

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While the first-round draft choice has spent the past five days standing around on the practice field, LaMarr Woodley has made more valuable use of his time at training camp.

While Lawrence Timmons continues to slip further and further in his development because of a groin injury, Woodley continues to grow and grow in his transition from collegiate defensive end to NFL outside linebacker.

"He's strong, man," outside linebacker Clark Haggans said. "He's got great explosiveness, and he plays with great leverage. He's only going to get better."

Woodley, the Steelers' second-round draft choice, was such a dominant defensive end at Michigan he won the Lombardi Award as the college football's top lineman and the Ted Hendricks Award as the best defensive end last season.

Now, he is trying to follow in a tradition of defensive ends who have made the transition to stand-up outside linebackers in the 3-4 defense --Jason Gildon, Joey Porter and even Haggans, the starter at left outside linebacker. Woodley is even wearing Porter's former jersey number (55).

And while he still has a long way to go to get comfortable with formations and the nuances of pass coverage, Woodley certainly has shown the coaches he is very comfortable doing what he does best -- rushing the passer.

"He's a good football player," linebackers coach Keith Butler said.

"He's strong and he can move. We like the matchups we will get from him. He has shown he can do the things we thought he could do."

Woodley has done them so well he has a chance to be a contributor this season in third-down situations, spelling Haggans and perhaps even James Harrison, the starter at right outside linebacker, to rush the passer.

He will get a chance to put those skills on display Sunday night when the Steelers open the NFL preseason against the New Orleans Saints in the Hall of Fame Game at Canton, Ohio.

"I'll probably go in there, give Clark a breather, and use my rushing skills and try to get to the quarterback," Woodley said.

"It's a great opportunity. If stuff happens during the season, while you never wish anything bad on anybody, I got to be ready when I get called."

Haggans, who has 15 sacks the past two seasons, says he is not upset by suggestions he might be replaced in third-down situations.

"Doesn't bother me at all," said Haggans, a defensive end at Colorado State before making the transition to outside linebacker.

"Whatever formula we need to win, if we're going to be successful at something, we have to do it full steam ahead. Him coming in, just rotating and keeping everybody fresh, is probably a good thing."

Butler compared Woodley (6 feet 2, 264 pounds) to Harrison (5-11, 242) because both are small, quick and very strong.

"He's quick and he stays low coming off the edge," said right tackle Max Starks, who usually goes against Woodley in practice.

Woodley did that so well at Michigan he ranks second in school history in sacks (25) and tackles for losses (50 1/2). In addition, he has strong hands, using them to force a school-record 10 fumbles in his career.

Of course, in the NFL, he will be going against offensive tackles who, for the most part, are bigger, quicker and stronger.

"It's just using your hands and your technique," Woodley said.

"You can't just overpower everybody. You have to use the technique you got."

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Rookie LaMarr Woodley reaches to block a volleyball during special teams drills Friday in Latrobe.
Click photo for larger image.

Gerry Dulac can be reached at .


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