Woodley tackles weighty issue

By Alan Robinson
Published: Monday, August 26, 2013

LaMarr Woodley prepared for what might be the most important season of his career by effectively eliminating his offseason.

Aware of all the talk that more Woodley made for a lesser player, he began working out for 2013 only a few weeks after 2012 ended — and after he healed from a painful, cumbersome high ankle sprain.

He didn't believe his weight — listed as 265 pounds but believed to be more — hampered his play, even as his sacks dwindled from 13½ in 2009 to only four the past 1½ seasons.

But the perception among his teammates and coaches appeared to be different. So, aware that fellow pass rusher James Harrison might not return and he could be breaking in a new partner at outside linebacker, Woodley shed pounds and took on more responsibility as a leader of the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense.

At the same time the 28-year-old Woodley was training in Arizona, safety Troy Polamalu, age 32, was doing the same in California. As a result, the two players most responsible for the success and/or failure of the defense look to be in their best shape in seasons.

Already this preseason, they've made the type of did-you-see-that plays they once made regularly but produced only infrequently during injury-stalled 2012 seasons.

“We have to get back to doing what we're doing,” Woodley said Monday. “When you look at me, look at Troy, all of our stuff is based on big plays. When he doesn't make big plays, people are asking what's going on. If my sack number goes down, you're wondering what's going on with LaMarr Woodley.

“When you go from nine sacks (in 2011) to four sacks, a lot of eyebrows are being raised.”

The Steelers' sacks and turnovers produced are way down from a few seasons ago, and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is making it a priority to boost both numbers. First-round draft pick Jarvis Jones already appears to be making a difference with his ability to create fumbles.

Woodley hopes that by rushing the passer more and dropping into coverage less than he did last season, Steelers' sack numbers will jump. They've gone from 51 in 2008 to 35 in 2011 and 37 last season.

“People have got to find excuses for you, or say things about you, when your numbers drop,” Woodley said of the talk he was overweight. “But it's all about how you handle it at the end of the day, and coming back this year and bouncing back and trying to get back to the Super Bowl.”

Woodley wound up training in Arizona after accepting an invitation that teammate Ryan Clark made for years.

“He's as slim as we've ever seen him,” Clark said. “I've never seen him look so good. … He was very committed, committed to his diet, committed to his training.”

Against the Redskins last week, Woodley bulldozed through multiple players for a sack, something he couldn't do last season while being slowed by a hamstring injury and the high ankle sprain.

“(I) didn't have any explosion, any push-off (in 2012),” he explained.

Harrison and Woodley were largely responsible for the Steelers amassing more sacks than all but three teams since Woodley's rookie season.

Woodley doesn't doubt he can be just as effective with Jones and Jason Worilds playing alongside him. During the Chiefs preseason game Saturday, the Steelers kept a fresh tandem on the field at all times by rotating the three from series to series.

“I'm comfortable with both of them,” he said.