Steelers' linebackers heading in opposite directions
By Mark Kaboly
Published: Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, 7:15 p.m.
LaMarr Woodley set his alarm clock for 6 a.m. so he could be the first to announce his newly signed $61.5 million contract via social media.
“That was the whole thing — breaking the story first,” Woodley said on Aug. 3, 2011.
Three weeks later, Lawrence Timmons signed a $50 million deal and told absolutely nobody because “they said they wanted to keep it on the down low.”
Not only was it a glimpse into the personalities of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's first two draft picks, it was an indication of how different the paths their careers would take.
Since signing their deals 18 days apart, Timmons has played in 99 percent of the Steelers' snaps, including 1,688 consecutive, while Woodley has missed 14 games and parts of six others while taking part in only 56 percent of the plays.
“He's had to battle some injuries, unfortunately for him and for us,” Tomlin said after Woodley was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury in December.
Fair or not, Timmons and Woodley always will be compared because they were the Steelers' top two picks in 2007 at the same position. So far, Timmons is winning.
Since their nearly simultaneous contract extensions, Timmons' play has justified his lucrative payday, and Woodley's hasn't.
Timmons accumulated 325 tackles, 11 sacks, 42 quarterback pressures while missing 34 snaps in three seasons with Woodley, who had 35 sacks his first three years, collecting 113 tackles, 18 sacks, 40 pressures while missing a possible 1,000 snaps.
Three years of nagging injuries that's led to a lack of production, along with a hefty price tag left on his contract, could make the 29-year old Woodley a salary cap casualty in March. The Steelers could save $25 million in salary over the final three years if they release Woodley.
“If it comes down to giving the money to Woodley or (Jason) Worilds, I'd give it to Worilds,” said Matt Williamson, an NFL scout for ESPN.com and former Cleveland Browns college and pro scout.
The polarizing Woodley has accomplished more off the field recently. He has been featured on MTV's Guy Code and Hip-Hop Squares and had his likeness made into a cartoon alongside Peyton Manning in an episode of South Park.
“He is easy to dislike and people think he is overweight and he is hurt all of the time,” Williamson said. “But what I thought when he was out there this year, he was much better than he was a year ago and especially as a pass rusher.”
With Woodley's future uncertain, Timmons has become the heartbeat of the Steelers' defense. Timmons led the team with 126 tackles despite a role change early in the season; he also had to call the defensive plays when Larry Foote was lost for the year.
“I think I did OK,” Timmons said. “I need to make more splash plays. I don't think I made enough splash plays as I did last year. It was an OK year for me.”
Timmons also had two interceptions, three sacks, a forced fumble and a career-high 20-tackle game against the Ravens in which he played the final quarter with a broken hand unbeknownst to his teammates.
“I asked him why he didn't say anything during the game and he said he didn't want to come out of the game and for his teammates to be mad at him,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “He's an old-school caveman.”
Timmons ranked fourth in stops in the league — the cumulative number of tackles that result in an offensive failure, tracked by ProFootballFocus — to go along with being one of the better cover linebackers in the NFL.
“I think he is underrated nationally,” Williamson said.
Timmons hasn't made a Pro Bowl despite being one of the top second-level or hybrid linebackers in the NFL.
“I think you could put Lawrence Timmons in anybody's lineup, and he's going to stand out and play good football,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “In my honest opinion, maybe it's somewhat biased, I think he's played at an All-Pro level for several years. I don't know what more you want the guy to do.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib
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