Steelers notebook: Woodley expects to start Sunday vs. Dolphins
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who sat out three games with a calf injury, said he will return to the starting lineup on Sunday when the Steelers face the Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field is an AFC matchup with playoff implications.
Woodley's return means Jason Worilds will move back to right outside linebacker where rookie Jarvis Jones started the past three games. Woodley participated fully in practice and is listed as probable.
“I can play either side, but right now I'll play wherever they need me,” Woodley said. “I don't want to fatigue it or reinjure it, so we'll be smart about it.
“The last three weeks the best I could do is coach and help out the guys. I made sure I was talking with Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones throughout the week. I was telling them what I was seeing from the sidelines. I wasn't going to be a guy hanging my head because I couldn't play.”
For Worilds, it's another adjustment for a linebacker who has bounced from one side to the other the past two seasons. “I felt like I was getting into a rhythm, but wherever the coaches put me I'll be ready to play,” Worilds said.
• Defensive end Brett Keisel, who played only eight snaps at Baltimore after missing the previous two games because of a foot injury, will not play against Miami. Tackle Kelvin Beachum (knee) is doubtful while defensive tackle Steve McLendon (ankle), who didn't play at Baltimore, is listed as questionable. Running back Le'Veon Bell, who said he passed earlier concussion tests, is among four players who are probable — including tackle Mike Adams (ankle) and guard David DeCastro.
• The Steelers will focus mostly on Miami defensive end Cameron Wake, but they're also impressed with defensive linemenOlivier Vernon and Jared Odrick. “They are hard to block to be honest with you,” guard Ramon Foster said. “Their record doesn't reflect how good the defensive line has played.” Foster compares Wake to former Pro Bowler Jevon Kearse. “He's quick off the ball and he has a motor.” However, the Steelers offensive line has given up only one sack the past three games. “Cameron Wake makes a lot of plays, so they are going to get to Ben,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “The game plan is get a yards after the catch when he gets the ball out on (short routes), but we still have to take our shots down the field.” The Dolphins play mostly zone coverages, but cornerback Brent Grimes is among the league's best in man coverage.
• Safety Ryan Clark said part ofMike Wallace's frustrations with the Dolphins have been a lack of timing between he and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. “They try to get the ball to Mike often, but Tannehill hasn't found the range yet,” Clark said. “It tookBen (Roethlisberger) a while to find the range and realize no matter where I throw this ball I can't overthrow him. It's never going to be too far. Tannehill was waiting for him to come open. They have incorporated him in the offense in other ways – screens and hitches. So Mike is still going to be a threat.”
• Sanders said he's looking forward to seeing Wallace. “That's my guy,” Sanders said. “I was hurt when he left. We were the money crew, and I thought we would be together our entire careers.” However, Wallace's return is no big deal to Antonio Brown. “It's not my focus, but I'm looking forward to the challenge,” said Brown, who is second in the NFL with 85 receptions.
• The Steelers expect Tannehill to target Wallace for much of Sunday's game. But they'll keep a close eye on the rest of Miami's receiving corps, including Brian Hartline and tight end Charles Clay.
“You have to take away Mike deep,” Clark said. “But Tannehill will go to whoever is open because that's what makes them good.”
Strong safety Troy Polamalu, though, isn't willing to shut down Wallace if it means getting gashed by the rest of the Dolphins.
“It's easy not to give up the deep pass to Mike,” Polamalu said. “You just backpedal and stay on top of him. We're not going to give on 15- and 20-yard comeback routes. Mike is a super fast receiver, but it doesn't mean we don't have the skills to challenge him.”
• Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery played well against the Dolphins during his tenure with the New York Jets. His 31 catches and two touchdowns tell only part of the story in many of those heated AFC East rival games.
“Those division games you have to step up, and you enjoy those December games in Miami,” said Cotchery, who has a career-best eight touchdown receptions this season. “They had Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor and Patrick Surtain, but they are building it pretty well down there now.
“I see some similarities with the old guys. I think getting (cornerback) Brent Grimes was a good acquisition. They get after it up front, and that a got a sack on the first play (vs. the Jets) last week.”