Steelers' menacing Woodley says sacks all a part of big goal
Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley rushes the passer during workouts at the Steelers South Side facility.
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Halfway through the first season of his monstrous contract, LaMarr Woodley was matching it with a feverish pace on the field, one that would place him above all linebackers in Steelers history.
And if anyone cares to look, that's some history.
Woodley had nine sacks through the first eight games of 2011, an 18-sack pace that if achieved would have obliterated James Harrison's team record of 16 set when he earned the NFL defensive player of the year award in 2008.
He was also just warming up, recording 7 1/2 sacks in games 5-8, the first time since sacks became an official stat in '82 that a Steelers player had at least two in four consecutive games.
Then, his hamstring gave out and it practically wiped out the entire second half for him. He did start two more games but reinjured it in the second quarter Dec. 4 against Cincinnati and left again in his next game in the third quarter Dec. 19 in San Francisco.
He finished with those nine sacks, enough to tie James Harrison for the team lead.
What could have been another NFL defensive player of the year season for a Steelers player ended with him not making the Pro Bowl. Woodley shrugged in a that's-the-way-the-cookie-crumbles kind of way while talking about it, the same way he did when he reported to training camp a year ago entering the final year of his contract. The Steelers took care of that by signing him to a six-year, $61.5 million deal, and Woodley believes things will again take care of themselves in 2012.
"I get another year to do it again," Woodley said. "That's how I look at it. Last year I didn't do it because of injury. But, every year you come back you have another opportunity to do the same thing. I look forward to having another good season and helping my team out."
He was derailed a few days last week with something new, a groin injury. He says it is not serious and acknowledged that last year's experience with his pulled hamstring has caused him and his coaches to be more cautious this time.
"Exactly," said Woodley, who returned to practice full time over the weekend. "I'm good to go. Just a few days off."
The hamstring injury and its fallout prompted him to train a little differently after last season. He worked to strengthen the hamstrings and the muscles around it.
"I worked on flexibility this offseason. It wasn't a thing where I felt it before I pulled it. It was something that just happened. I felt like this offseason I really worked to make sure it doesn't happen again, but muscles [are] muscles sometime."
And sacks become turnovers sometimes. The Steelers noticeable failure to produce turnovers on defense might be laid right at the feet of the injuries to Woodley and Harrison, who missed five games that included a one-game NFL suspension. The sacks and pressures on quarterbacks took a dive, thus robbing the defense of likely more fumbles forced -- Harrison had seven in 2008 -- and all those interceptions that hurried quarterbacks throw.
"We were hurt everywhere at every position," Woodley said. "That just hurt all the way around, we didn't get as many turnovers and we didn't put our offense in good field position. This year we have another opportunity to do that."
Woodley also has another chance, at just 28, to take another crack at that sack record, and to stay on track as one of the best quarterback menaces in the NFL.
"Yeah I have goals -- get back to the Super Bowl and win it," Woodley said. "When you set the high goal right there, everything else just plays out. When you're playing to get there you know the part you have to play out there on the football field.
"Personal goals, I don't even need to say. As far as team goals, help the team get back to the Super Bowl and win it and everything else will fall into place."
Ben Roethlisberger said his left foot is fine after he missed practice one day after it was stepped on Saturday near the end of drills.
He said it is not sprained -- he wore no bandage or extra support on it -- and that he will return to practice Tuesday. The players have today off.
"It's good. No worries," Roethlisberger said after watching practice. "I think coach [Mike Tomlin] was giving it to me anyway, two days in a row -- today, and tomorrow we're off anyway. I just got it stepped on, nothing big."
Tomlin, who mocked a question about his quarterback's injury Saturday, called Roethlisberger "day to day" and that "he should be fine."
The Steelers traveled 100 miles round-trip to practice Sunday. The heavy, day-long downpours prompted Tomlin to move practice indoors at the team's facility on the South Side. And coming from east of the city is not an easy trip on the weekends. The Squirrel Hill Tunnel that funnels traffic on the Parkway East into town has been closed on the weekends recently and the detour usually time-consuming.
So, the buses headed south on their own detour, went through Duquesne and Homestead, past Kennywood and in the back way to the South Side for a 4 p.m. practice.
Once there, more trouble. They went from Friday night lights in Latrobe to Sunday night no lights when the electricity conked out at their indoor field during a storm. Practice was stopped for a dozen minutes before they came back on.
"I thought they put a nice exclamation point on a good competitive weekend through a variety of unusual circumstances and they responded," Tomlin said of his players. "From Friday night lights, to short-yardage and goal-line [situations Saturday] to the logistics of coming down here and performing. I like the way the group is showing they're capable of playing anytime we roll the ball out under any circumstances."
First Published August 6, 2012 12:00 am