OLB Woodley becomes disruptive force

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LaMarr Woodley has blossomed into a sack artist for the Steelers' top-ranked defense, but the second-year outside linebacker isn't expecting a curtain call.

He has three Pro Bowl players operating in his neighborhood -- inside linebacker James Farrior, outside linebacker James Harrison and strong safety Troy Polamalu.

"We've got a lot of stars and contributors on this defense," Woodley said. "That's why it's so good."

Woodley, a second-round draft pick from Michigan in 2007, registered 11Â 1/2 sacks in the regular season and has added four more in playoffs in his first season as a starter.

He said a victory against the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII would cap a special season for him. Woodley is one of seven former Michigan players and two assistant coaches who will participate in the game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

"Everybody wants to play in the Super Bowl, but I never thought I would actually have the opportunity to play in one this early in my career," he said. "I have seen a Super Bowl ring. I don't have one, but I want one."

Woodley is the first player in NFL history to record three consecutive multi-sack games in the postseason. He has six total, including two each this year in playoff wins against the San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens, and two in a postseason loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars a year ago.

"He's made everyone else on the defense -- James, Troy, me ... everyone -- that much better," Steelers inside linebacker Larry Foote said.

Woodley, 6 feet 2 and 265 pounds, got off to a fast start this season. He had 9Â 1/2 sacks the first eight games, but managed just two in the final seven games and was shut out in the last four. He missed the game against the Indianapolis Colts with a calf injury.

Coach Mike Tomlin joked that Woodley had run out of steam, but he has picked it up again in the playoffs.

"People come to define you as an outside linebacker by you getting sacks," Woodley said. "You can't do that. Getting sacks [isn't] anything but extra stats. As long as your team is winning, that's all that matters."

Woodley and Harrison, the NFL's defensive player of the year after registering a team-leading 16 sacks, proved to be double trouble for opponents.

They combined for 27Â 1/2 sacks in the regular season, shattering the previous team mark of 24 held jointly by Steelers linebackers Jason Gildon (13Â 1/2) and Joey Porter (10Â 1/2) in 2000, and Kevin Greene (14) and Greg Lloyd (10) in 1994.

Overall, the linebackers combined for 38Â 1/2 of the Steelers' 51 regular-season sacks, and they have accounted for five of the seven in the playoffs.

"You think of some of the great linebackers they've had here, names like Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland, Jack Ham, Jason Gildon, Joey Porter, and you want to be a part of that group," Woodley said. "You want people talking about you like that when you're done playing football."

Woodley's popularity skyrocketed when he was featured on the cover of the Dec. 22 Sports Illustrated, glaring down at Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco after yet another sack.

"[LaMarr] has played at a high level," Tomlin said. "The thing that we need from him is consistent pressure. I think that he provides that."

Woodley, who dreamed of being a WWF wrestler or an NBA player as a youngster, was the Steelers' sixth-leading tackler in the regular season with 78 stops. He also tied for the NFL lead with four fumble recoveries.

"He's played great for us this year," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "To only be a second-year pro and make the type of plays he makes and do the things he's asked to do is pretty amazing."

Woodley's pass-rushing skills have drawn the most attention. He has 21Â 1/2 sacks since joining the Steelers and making the successful transition to outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense.

At Michigan, he was primarily a defensive end in a 4-3 alignment.

"It's always hard to draft a college defensive end and turn them into a pass-rushing linebacker," Polamalu said. "But, obviously, LaMarr's done a great job with it.

"This defense is built for our linebackers to have a lot of success, and he's had a lot of it so far in a short period of time."

Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@post-gazette.com . First Published January 25, 2009 5:00 AM


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