The entire NFL career of Al Woods has been about survival, and 2013 is no different.
The former LSU defensive tackle entered the league in the fourth-round of the 2010 NFL Draft, taken by the New Orleans Saints. He did not survive final cuts. Four days after being released, he became a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers; or at least, their practice squad.
Two months after joining the Steelers, he was signed away by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He finished out the season with Tampa, but was released prior to the beginning of the 2011 season. He was picked up by the Seattle Seahawks the very next day.
Unfortunately, Woods stay in Seattle would end two months later, but fortunately, Pittsburgh had not forgotten about him. The Steelers scooped him up the very next day, and he has remained with the team ever since, as their primary reserve left defensive end.
Woods was a late bloomer at LSU, too. He did not become a full-time starter until his senior season. At first glance, his collegiate stat lines make little impression. For Woods' sake, it's a good thing the Steelers give potential talent more than just an initial glance.
During his tenure in Pittsburgh, he has surpassed several which had also found favor in the eyes of the coaches - Nick Eason, Travis Kirschke and Corbin Bryant. However, in 2013, Woods will really be in for the fight of his life. This year, when training camp opens, Woods will again be the primary reserve at LDE behind Ziggy Hood; but he will need to stand out above the rest if he wants to stay there.
While the Steelers did not spend another first-round draft pick on a defensive end, as they did with Hood and Cameron Heyward, the off-season roster contains several worthy combatants. During the draft, the team grabbed Nicholas Williams (6-5, 309), and afterward signed two undrafted rookies, Brian Arnfelt (6-5, 302) and Cordian Hagan (6-5, 299). While all three are considered projects at this point, they all have something Woods does not - time.
Age isn't necessarily a concern, as Woods is only 26; however, time is running out on his contract. This is the final season on Woods contract, as it is for the man Woods understudies, Ziggy Hood. The team will be looking at the future as closely as they do the now. Williams, as a draft pick, will be under contract for the next four years should the team sign him. Arnfelt and Hagans would be under contract for three seasons, plus a fourth as a restricted free-agent.
Woods has experience in Dick LeBeau's complicated defensive scheme, which should give him a performance advantage; but if in the end Woods shows to be barely better suited than the young men behind him, he will become the most expendable for stability's sake.
If Woods can maintain the confidence of the coaching staff, he may dodge the axe yet again, and prolong his career. If not, the team could cut him clean before the regular season begins.