Republished from Aug. 15, Dale Grdnic's interview with Steelers defensive lineman Al Woods.
LATROBE, Pa. -- Al Woods is in his fourth NFL season, but only the most ardent Pittsburgh Steelers fans would know about him.
That number should increase markedly this year.
Woods led the Steelers defense with nine total tackles, including six solo, two tackles behind the line, including one sack for seven yards and one quarterback hurry in the preseason opener against the New York Giants. Woods played exclusively at left end, but his position flexibility, as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin calls it, will be the key to extending his career with the club.
"One guy's misfortune or circumstance creates an opportunity for others," Tomlin said. "Hopefully, those guys will utilize the opportunity for good, particularly in the case of Al Woods. He's a guy that has been working at end.
"We've had some short lines on the outside due to injury. We have Nick Williams back, and (Woods) is providing flexibility for us to move him inside and show what he's capable of there. He is a big-body guy that is performing well, and we want him to add value to his cause and ours by showing position flexibility."
Woods has shown a lot more than that since the Steelers re-signed him in 2011. While Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward have first-round pedigrees, Woods is a passionate pass-rusher. At 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds, he has the size and power to stop the run, but Woods also has displayed the quickness needed to get off blocks and make plays behind the line. Neither Hood nor Heyward have done that with any consistency yet.
"Al has been working real hard, and he has a baby on the way, well, his wife does," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. "He's been playing tough and having a good camp. He has to. This is Al's fourth year. It’s one of those things where your back is kind of against the wall.
"And he really needs to make plays in order to keep his job. Al is at that crossroad, and he needs to keep on doing what he's doing. That's what I told him in the game. I said not to be satisfied with just one play. Then, he just kept making them, and that's what he has to do."
The Steelers coaches have thought enough about Woods to have him be a backup at both defensive end spots, as well as the nose tackle, and he has been solid at each. When starting nose tackle Steve McLendon was excused from a recent practice, Woods stepped in for him. He is Hood's backup at left end. He can rush the passer from both spots and occupy blockers.
Woods is a guy whose role could enhance with continued improvement. That didn't appear to be likely when the Steelers first claimed him off waivers from the New Orleans Saints in 2010. The Saints had drafted him in the fourth round that season, but he apparently fell into disfavor quite quickly. The Steelers signed him to their practice squad that year, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers eventually claimed him.
The Seattle Seahawks signed him in 2011, and he played two games for them. The Steelers got him back and put him on the active roster, but he did not play. Woods played in 12 games for the Steelers last season, primarily on special teams, and recorded just two tackles. Those modest stats did not reflect his development and certainly weren't a harbinger for things to come for Woods.
"I trained really hard in the offseason to get ready for this year, and I think I did pretty well in the spring," Woods said. "But I don't want to look back. I think we should only be concerned about today and getting better today. When tomorrow comes, we'll work on getting better that day. You can't worry about yesterday, because you can never get it back.
"So, that's what I'm trying to do, get better every day, one day at a time. I don't want to move around any more. I love it here. I really do. I love the people, I love the team and organization. It's a good place to be. The coaches, they're real upfront and honest. The guys, we can easily go talk to them. They're real easy to talk to. It's just a good place to be."
And if Woods continues to progress, Woods will be just as good for the Steelers.