View Full Version : Woodley among Wolverines on Super Bowl rosters

02-01-2009, 11:36 AM
Woodley among Wolverines on Super Bowl rosters

TAMPA -- On the road to the Super Bowl, you must pay the tolls, LaMarr Woodley has learned.

Woodley was a star at Saginaw High and Michigan. The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the second round in 2007. But when he left for his first NFL workouts that spring, he hadn't signed a contract.

"I didn't have really any cash on me," Woodley said. "But I had this box full of change."

As he drove from Michigan to Pennsylvania, he barely made it along the Ohio Turnpike. He had to scrape together some coins to pay at the first toll booth.

"The lady said, 'I hope you've got some more money, because you know, up ahead you've got to pay again,' " Woodley said. "And I looked in there. I had just enough. I had some more change to pay to get through there."

Less than two years later, Woodley has made it all the way to Super Bowl XLIII to face the Arizona Cardinals today.

After playing defensive end in a 4-3 scheme at Michigan, the 6-foot-2, 265-pounder has made the transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme and become an impact player.

Of the seven former Wolverines on Super Bowl rosters -- five with the Cardinals, two with the Steelers -- Woodley might have the biggest effect on today's game.

Woodley plays opposite James Harrison, the NFC defensive player of the year, and is the first player in NFL history to post three consecutive multisack playoff games. It will be his job to rush quarterback Kurt Warner to try to stop the Cardinals' potent passing attack before it starts.

"That's always been Pittsburgh football, even back in the days when I was growing up," Arizona assistant head coach and offensive line coach Russ Grimm said.

Grimm, a Pennsylvania native, recalled Jack Lambert and Jack Hamm, Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene, and Joey Porter and Clark Haggans.

"Now, it's moved on to Harrison and Woodley," Grimm said. "They're good, physical 'backers that can cover a lot of ground and get to the passer."

Woodley is proud to be part of that.

"As a young kid, you understand that tradition about the linebackers, and then when you come here, you have to embrace it," Woodley said. "One thing about the linebackers that played here back in the day and one thing about us is, we all have the same attitude. We go out there and play aggressive."

At first, Woodley wasn't sure he wanted to be a linebacker. When teams asked him before the 2007 draft what he wanted to play, he told them defensive end. That's what he had played at Michigan, where he was the first Wolverine to win the Lombardi Trophy as the nation's top college football lineman. That's where he was comfortable.

But the Steelers saw his skills and thought he would fit their scheme.

"When the Steelers called me and said, 'We're going to draft you with the next pick and you'll play outside linebacker,' I definitely wasn't going to say no," Woodley said. "I knew it was going to be a challenge for me, but I knew once I had the opportunity to have the reps at the position ... that I could get it down."

Woodley played 13 games as a rookie with no starts. He had four sacks. But he had two sacks in a playoff loss to Jacksonville, a sign of things to come.

This season, Woodley started all 15 games he played. He had 11 1/2 sacks in his first 11 games.

When he had no sacks in his last four games, he bristled at critics who said he had run out of gas. He said he had still put pressure on the quarterback and come close.

And he showed he still had plenty left in the tank in the playoffs. He had two sacks each against San Diego and Baltimore.

"Awesome talent," said inside linebacker Larry Foote, who played at Detroit Pershing and Michigan. "I would tell him that all off-season. Even last year when he came on the field, we knew what he could do. It was just a matter of mentally getting it down. When they turned him loose this year, nobody in the organization was surprised, because we've seen what he's capable of doing."

The most telling play might not have been a sack, however. Rushing the passer as an outside linebacker isn't much different than rushing the passer as a defensive end.

"The biggest thing was, 'Can I cover receivers or tight ends and running backs?' " Woodley said. "Having a year or two of taking those kind of reps, I'm comfortable with it now.

"You've got to have confidence in yourself when you go out to cover those guys, because you already know they're faster than you. You have to know where your help is at on the field. You don't have to be the fastest guy to cover somebody. You've just got to know where to be at right time."

In his first game this season, Woodley made the first interception of his life, a one-handed grab.

In the Steelers' playoff victory over the Chargers, they were defending third-and-long. Woodley had to cover speedy running back Darren Sproles. He knew what Sproles needed for a first down, took the right angle and beat him to the spot. That forced quarterback Philip Rivers to throw over Sproles' head.

Incomplete. Punt.

"You just can't beat everybody up like he did in college," Foote said. "You've got to have a little technique, have a little schemes, have some plans. You ain't seen the best of him yet. This is only his first year starting. So in a couple of years, he's going to be even better."

His days of scrounging for change are over.

Contact NICHOLAS J. COTSONIKA at 313-222-8831 or ncotsonika@freepress.com.
Additional Facts

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa.

Matchup: Arizona (12-7) vs. Pittsburgh (14-4).

02-01-2009, 02:04 PM
Great read on Woodley. Thanks for posting it Mesa. I really believe Woodley could have another 2 sack game today. We are gonna need him and Harrison to play big today.

02-01-2009, 02:15 PM
Nice read!!! Woodley is gonna be huge today i got a feeling him and harrison are gonna beat up the tackles today!