This might come as a somewhat odd selection to some of you, being that LaMarr Woodley, our 2nd Round draft choice from Michigan, played in only 13 games, started none of them, and only recorded 14 tackles on the year. I include Woodley in my 'Top Surprises' list however because of the promise he showed finally given an opportunity to play.
I don't think too many of us expected Woodley to immediately be a starter and be an impact player on this veteran defensive unit. With Farrior, Foote, Haggans, and Harrison all experienced and familiar with Dick LeBeau's 3-4 scheme, it was logical to assume he wouldn't be a starter this year without injuries to players ahead of him on the depth chart. However, I don't think many of us thought Woodley would be relegated to the bench quite as much as he was this year. Woodley, unlike 1st Round pick Lawrence Timmons, was in camp on time, and by all accounts, seemed to be working hard and primed for success in Pittsburgh, even if not right away during his rookie season.
In Weeks 2 and 3, against Buffalo and San Francisco, Woodley recorded 4 and 2 tackles respectively, with a sack to boot in each game. Then, a few knicks and bruises, combined with the coaches' decision to not play him as much, kept him from making much of an impact until Clark Haggans was injured much later in the season. A few tackles against the Rams, a sack in the finale against Baltimore, and then a 2 sack effort in the playoffs against the Jags completed Woodley's rookie campaign. On a very high note I might add.
Pressuring the QB was a serious problem for this defense in the latter parts of the 2007 season. Harrison was double teamed, and Haggans, Farrior and Foote just weren't able to bring the heat necessary for a Dick LeBeau defense to be effective. As a result, our defense struggled late in the season, even though the final season statistics might lead one to believe this unit was still dominant throughout the year. It wasn't though, and our ability to pressure the QB has to be considered one of the main culprits.
After Woodley's strong close to the 2007 year, I think many of us are excited about what he might bring to the table next year and in forthcoming years. Although a number of circumstances out of his control prevented him from putting in a complete body of work, he played with a spark, hunger, and intelligence that should allow him to be a difference maker next year. Clark Haggans is all but gone from Pittsburgh, so it's only a matter of time before Mr. Woodley really has his first opportunity to do his thing. In a season filled with several disappointing developments, in my mind, the play of LaMarr Woodley should be considered a pleasant surprise.