NAPA -- LaMarr Woodley is fat and out of shape. That was a common refrain in Pittsburgh in recent years, as Steelers fans felt buyer’s remorse when an injury plague succeeded a huge contract.
Oddly enough, Woodley was roughly the same 270-pound mound of raw muscle he is today. New responsibilities in a new city, however, may be better suited to his frame.
Woodley is switching from 3-4 outside linebacker in Pittsburgh to 4-3 defensive end in Oakland, a relatively simple transition that allows Woodley to focus on what he does best.
“We’re making it as simple as we can for him,” Raiders defensive line coach Terrell Williams said. “We said, ‘Put your hand in the ground, set an edge in the run game and go get the quarterback.’ We’re not asking him to do a lot of dropping into pass coverage, though he will do some. His main focus will be getting after the quarterback.”
Woodley can certainly do that. He has 57 sacks in seven seasons, including a four-year stretch with nine or more per year. He had just nine in the last two seasons, though he had five sacks in the first six games of 2013.
The Raiders expect the 29-year old to find solid form from a three-point stance. Woodley is in great shape for the position, a hulking mass who dominates with brute force.
“He’s powerful whether his hand in on the ground or not,” Williams said. “We’ve had a few practices in pads, and you can tell that he’s extremely physical in the run game. When rushing the passer, he’s not a fancy guy. He’s going to beat you with power. I’m extremely pleased with where he’s at right now.”
So is Woodley. The change of scenery has done his spirits well, as he and good friend Justin Tuck have united in Silver and Black. The two are committed to a franchise turnaround, and are leading that charge by example.
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Woodley put in serious conditioning work into his offseason, including mixed martial arts training he found extremely beneficial.
He starting training camp strong, especially when pads went on and he was able to play with power. The goal is to be disruptive at all times, something Woodley considers easier with a refined focus. The less he has to cover, the more he can rush the passer. Woodley says he’s as strong and powerful as ever.
“In Pittsburgh they said I was out of shape, fat anyway,” said Woodley, who was released by the Steelers in March after seven seasons. “I’ve been this size my whole career. The only reason I weighed too much in Pittsburgh was because I was asked to chase (smaller skill players) down the field. And now, playing defensive end, I don’t have to do that. The main thing is getting after the quarterback.”
He’ll do so from both sides of the line this year. He worked from the left in Pittsburgh, but the Raiders plan on moving him around some to find mismatches when available.
Many believe the position switch suits Woodley well, and that it could revitalize his career.
“He came into camp in great shape,” Williams said. “He’s healthy and ready for this role. We’re expecting big things from him.”