LATROBE -- After LaMarr Woodley missed Wednesday’s practice, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said it was just a day off to “stay ahead of the curve.”
The next day Woodley missed another practice, and Tomlin dodged the question of whether he was injured or resting by saying, “He’ll be back tomorrow.”
Is anyone worried about these minor semantics?
Well, when the baddest dude on the defense is hurting again, yes.
Woodley was on his way to what would’ve been his 10th sack in Game 8 against Tom Brady last year, when he went down as if shot. It was a hamstring pull that lasted the rest of the season and Woodley finished with those 9 sacks.
It’s little wonder fans clogged media e-mail boxes, message boards and twitter accounts yesterday with one, simple plea:
Shut Woodley down until the start of the season.
With James Harrison now 35 and still on the PUP list with a knee injury, after coming back from a serious back problem, Woodley is the key chess piece of the Dick LeBeau defensive puzzle this season. And judging by the way Woodley mopped up the practice field with David Johnson earlier in the week, perhaps the fans made a good point.
Woodley was asked about that point Friday afternoon: Does he really need training camp?
“Everybody needs training camp,” Woodley said.
And then he missed another practice Friday night. Woodley dressed for the workout at jam-packed Latrobe Stadium, but did not participate in much more than the stretch. Woodley says not to worry.
“Feel stronger. Feel faster. Ready to go,” he said. “I was out a long time last year, so I get another crack at it this year.”
Woodley said he has strengthened his hamstring and the muscles surrounding it when he wasn’t working on his flexibility.
“I’m good to go,” he said. “Just had a few days off.”
Any goals this season?
“Get back to the Super Bowl and win it,” Woodley said. “When you set that high goal right there everything else will just play out.”
STAR OF THE SHOW
With Woodley standing to the side watching, the backs did a much better job blocking blitzing linebackers in the feature drill last night at jam-packed Latrobe Stadium.
Baron Batch and Jonathan Dwyer held their own against the likes of linebackers Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, Chris Carter, and Stevenson Sylvester. Tomlin finally asked for Johnson to block Timmons, and Johnson stood his ground and kept Timmons from the quarterback. A few reps later, Sylvester crashed loudly into Johnson, who again stood his ground and then began to push the linebacker around.
“I thought David Johnson was the star of the period,” said Tomlin. “He’s a stout, stout man. He did an awesome job.”
During the second of three scrimmage periods last night, left guard Willie Colon went down in a heap after right guard Ramon Foster threw his man into the back of Colon’s legs.
Colon got up slowly, finished the period – which included throwing a punch at defensive end Cameron Heyward – but then left practice for good. Tomlin called it an ankle injury that he will check more closely tomorrow, but Colon said he’s all right, that he was more scared than hurt.
Ben Roethlisberger sat out the practice session because “we wanted to get a look at Byron (Leftwich) and Charlie Batch running the group,” Tomlin said. Emmanuel Sanders, John Clay and Brett Keisel were also rested.
Running back Isaac Redman suffered “a minor groin (injury) of some description” during the practice, and wide receiver Jimmy Young suffered a rib injury.
FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT
As for the punch thrown by Colon, a fight had broken out between old college teammates Heyward and Mike Adams after the left tackle had buried Heyward on a play during team scrimmage. The two started fighting and Colon pulled Heyward off of Adams. Heyward appeared to have said something to Colon, who squared up and punched Heyward in the facemask. Those two began to scuffle but teammates intervened and someone yanked Colon’s helmet off to end the fight.
Perhaps fans packed Latrobe Stadium to see the retirement ceremonies for Willie Parker, Marvel Smith, Joey Porter and Aaron Smith. The four ex-players were honored at midfield as they came back to retire as Steelers.
Jack Kearney, the Steelers’ training camp manager, didn’t provide a crowd estimate, but believes it was the largest high-school stadium crowd in front of which the Steelers have played during his 12 years on the job.
“Loved the environment,” said Tomlin. “The fans were awesome. It’s always an honor and a privilege to come out here and perform in front of them and for them. It was a great night.”
ROOKIE NEEDS FOCUS
Rookie wide receiver Toney Clemons has a clear shot to a roster spot – if he stops dropping catchable balls.
The player who’s made so many tough catches dating back to rookie minicamp understands why his drops are beginning to annoy the coaches.
“As a player you get annoyed with it as well,” Clemons said. “But it’s practice and that’s what practice is for, to go and work on your weaknesses.”
Since he obviously has good hands, Clemons was asked if the drops are due to a lack of focus.
“It’s always focus,” he said. “You get lazy with your eyes and stop looking the ball in the whole way, stuff like that. That comes with a part of being a receiver. That’s just something you’ve got to train your eyes never to take catches for granted, even the easy ones. That’s how you drop a lot of the easy balls.”