By Teresa Varley
LaMarr Woodley has come a long way in just one season. Last year there were games when he played only on special teams and a few that you could easily count the number of defensive snaps he was in on. He was inactive for several games. And it was rare that he saw extensive action on defense.
Against the Texans on Sunday, Woodley was one of the team's most visible defenders, making his presence known all day long.
Woodley made his first NFL start against Houston, lining up at left outside linebacker and was quick to show why he earned that spot following the departure of free agent Clark Haggans. He sacked Texans quarterback Matt Schaub for a nine-yard loss, recovered a fumble and had an interception. Not a bad way to start at all.
"As a rookie, not playing a lot, you come in and it's kind of like a learning experience that first year," said Woodley. "After that first year, you're not a rookie anymore; guys expect a lot out of you. You should expect a lot out of yourself, and your teammates are going to expect a lot out of you."
Woodley didn't waste any time getting into the flow of the game, bringing pressure on Schaub on the Texans second drive of the game. The Texans had a first down at the Steelers 42-yard line, trying to answer the Steelers touchdown drive. But Woodley wouldn't have any parts of letting them in the game, sacking Schaub for a nine-yard loss. When James Farrior and Nick Eason combined for a sack two plays later, it ended the drive.
"When you get a sack, you have to get credit to the guys up front and the guys in the back – the guys up front for applying the pressure and the credit to the guys in back for sticking to their coverage and allowing the quarterback to hold the ball a little bit," said Woodley. "They let me get in and get the glory."
It was just the beginning for him. In the second quarter Schaub was under pressure from James Harrison and tried to get the ball to Daniel Anderson. Instead Woodley was right there, picking off the pass and returning it six yards. Two plays later the Steelers took advantage of the play when Ben Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward for a 13-yard touchdown.
"I was dropping back into coverage," said Woodley. "Deshea (Townsend) told me right before the play started, 'Make sure you get underneath that guy.' And I just did what he said. I got underneath him and got the interception."
Woodley helped to close the door on another Texans drive in the fourth quarter. Harrison sacked Schaub and knocked the ball free and Woodley came up with the fumble recovery to complete a nice defensive trifecta.
The Steelers came out of the game without any major injuries, just some bumps and bruises. Safety Ryan Clark had an eye injury, but returned to action. Linebacker Donovan Woods had knee discomfort and cornerback Deshea Townsend was bothered by a sore foot. None of the injuries are expected to be serious.
"We are pretty good from an injury standpoint and I think that all of these things will disappear before next week, which is good," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "We are going to move forward and have all hands on deck as we come to work tomorrow."
An emotional pregame ceremony honored three members of the Steelers family who all passed away this year. Former defensive linemen Ernie Holmes and Dwight White, both members of the Steel Curtain defense of the 70s, and commentator Myron Cope were honored with a video tribute and a moment of silence combined with a Terrible Towel hold.
Members of all of their families were on hand for the ceremony, often times embracing and offering comfort to each other. They were also joined on the field by L.C. Greenwood, Mel Blount and Joe Greene, all who seemed moved by the ceremony.
Country music legend Charlie Daniels sang the National Anthem, which was followed by a helicopter flyover, with the Steelers logo painted on the bottom. Daniels also performed his hit "In America" at halftime.