Just a year ago, Steelers' linebacker coach Keith Butler said LaMarr Woodley needed to get in shape and No. 56 faced much criticism from fans throughout the 2012 season. Almost every day, Woodley's facebook wall would include a new post about topics that varied from football to movies, and the comments underneath each post would be littered with "get in shape" comments from Steelers fans.
Although it was evident that Woodley was working out in the offseason to improve his condition, his lack of conditioning prior to the 2012 season remained a concern in the media due to the reports of an anonymous teammate's criticism of Woodley earlier in the offseason.
Good news. After months of speculation as to how Woodley's revitalized passion to be prepared for football season would impact his physique before camp, coach Keith Butler shows his approval.
Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review may have just gotten the most anticipated perspective from a Steelers coach going into this off-season with this response from Butler. Woodley has been a big name in Pittsburgh for a few years now and deservedly so. In his second year, he was a major part of the Steelers' elite defense that led to the franchise's sixth Lombardi Trophy. He even ended the Cardinals hopes for a miracle comeback with a sack/fumble of Kurt Warner to end the season. Since then, he's played second fiddle in the outside linebacker corps to James Harrison. However in 2011, during an injury to Harrison, Woodley shined against Tom Brady and the Patriots as he recorded multiple sacks and was a disruptive force that played a major role in the Steelers victory that Halloween weekend.
While his performance was a great sign for Steelers fans looking for Woodley to be more dominant, he also tweaked his hamstring during the game and ultimately never recovered from it that season. Since then, Woodley has been a disappointment for Steelers fans who miss seeing the old-school Blitzburgh style of defensive play as the Steelers sack totals have dropped significantly in the past two seasons. Much of the criticism of Woodley is tied to this disappointment, as fans attribute the lack of success in the pass rush department to his consistent state of injury.
Butler also placed emphasis on Woodley's injuries; "I am a coach and they don’t pay me $7-8 million to stand on the sidelines and that’s what he’s been doing. If you are not on the field, you can’t earn your money." A good coach can tell it like it is, and Butler's point is that Woodley's injuries have not allowed him to be what the Steelers saw in him when they signed him for a six-year $61.5 million dollar contract in 2011.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's scheme is much more dangerous when a strong pass rush is consistently wreaking havoc against opponents. A healthier Woodley can only be a positive sign that the Steelers may have a strong pass rush throughout a season for the first time since 2010. The fact that the main criticisms of Woodley started after Butler's original comments before the 2012 season provides some irony if this time around those criticisms cease after his endorsement of Woodley's physical condition.
Either way, as long as Woodley gets back to his way of accumulating double-digit sack totals as he did for three straight seasons (2008-2010), this disappointing chapter in his career will come to a close.
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