Although the Steelers finished the 2011 regular season with the highest rated defense in the NFL, linebacker LaMarr Woodley sees plenty of room for improvement.
Woodley briefly held court with reporters Friday between practices and addressed the on-field shortcomings of a statistically sound defense.“The ranking was high and I don’t even think we played good defense last year. We didn’t get that many turnovers, we didn’t get to the quarterback that much, so I don’t know how we were ranked that high. If we were ranked that high last year, we’re definitely going to make some big stuff happen this year.”
While the Steelers were stingy with giving up points, turnovers were another matter. Pittsburgh finished a very un-Blitzburgh 17th out of 32 in the league with only 35 sacks; 24th in interceptions with only 9 all year, 30th in fumble recoveries and only one defensive touchdown the entire season.
“You always want to go out there and get turnovers and get three and outs – that’s always the goal when you get out there on the football field, to give the offense the short end of the field. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it don’t. Last year it didn’t happen a lot, we gave up a lot of big plays at crucial times. If we want to be a great defense we have to cut out giving up big plays.”
That much was evident in the Steelers playoff loss to Denver, in which Pittsburgh was repeatedly torched for long gains and saw its season end on a single 'big' play in overtime.
“Overall the defense has got to get better. There’s no particular person or no particular area -- just overall as a defense, we’ve got to get better.”
The simplest path to defensive improvement, Woodley said, is by its members not getting hurt. Both he and fellow OLB James Harrison, among others, were on the shelf for quite a bit of 2011.
“It’s all about just going out there and staying healthy this year. I think if we’d have had a healthy defense last year, we’d have made a lot of big plays but unfortunately we had injuries at a lot of different positions, that overall hurt production.”He said that the team will miss James Farrior, but that Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons are up to the task of patrolling the middle of the field.
"James Farrior, with the leadership role that he has … he’s definitely a big leader that’s going to be missed … other guys are going to have to step up, including myself. But as far as the starting role goes, we have two good middle backers with great experience – Timmons has started and Larry Foote has started so I think we’ll be pretty good.
He described Foote as, “A guy with experience, a guy that’s been on this defense, a guy that we trust. So I don’t think we’ve lost anything at all.
Woodley praised rookie linebacker Sean Spence, saying, “Sean Spence is very fast, sideline to sideline. He reminds me of Lawrence Timmons. Once Sean Spence learns this defense, he’s going to be a good player.”
However, don't expect Woodley to be giving pointers to the Steelers young offensive lineman on how to contend with a pass rusher like himself.
“I don’t coach anybody up. I just worry about our side of the ball. Let the players over there coach each other up. They know what they gotta face each and every week. They know what type of players they gotta face, and what they have to do to protect our quarterback.”