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Kovacevic: No lock on Steelers' Woodley

| Friday, June 24, 2011

Could have sworn I spotted the Steelers' LaMarr Woodley skipping rope in his driveway very late the other evening. The workout tights were as dark as the sky, and there was no other lighting, no bright white No. 56 on his chest. But I could make out at least the silhouette of, oh, you know, an all-universe linebacker elegantly skipping rope in the dead of night.

"Yeah, that was me," Woodley confessed with a booming laugh a couple days later. "I guess you could call it my late, late workout. I'm hoping nobody drives by that time of night and sees me, so they don't think I'm crazy or something like that."

Well, too late for that.

Honestly, will someone please get these guys back to the gridiron?

Anyone wondering how the NFL could so confidently lock out its union and reap major concessions — which is how these imminent settlement terms look to me -- should know this: These professional athletes are like no other. They stay in their teams' cities year-round to train. They push each other in ways that other athletes couldn't comprehend. And the games are so punishing that the average NFL career is just 3.5 years, compared to 5.6 for Major League Baseball and 5.5 for the NHL.

These guys live for football. And when it's taken away, they crack.

Let's call Woodley our Exhibit A.

He will deny that the lockout is getting to him: "This just gives players a chance to heal up a little, especially teams like us and Green Bay that went the distance. Besides, I think we'll be back soon."

He will laugh off the notion that missing out on Latrobe would hurt preparation: "That wouldn't break my heart at all. It would be my first time at home in August since high school."

But he also will blurt out that this normally would have been one of the Steelers' offseason training activity weeks, and he will lament how difficult it is for the defense to practice during the lockout. It's one thing for Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers to find a playground and run routes. It's quite another to mimic a Dick LeBeau zone blitz.

"James Farrior has some guys in Florida, and Lawrence Timmons has some guys together, too," Woodley said. "But there's really not much you can do."

Not in the real world, anyway.

Perhaps acting out some inner football angst, Woodley has invested some of his idle time doing what the Steelers enjoy more than anything: Bodyslamming Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco.

Woodley's first volley came during an NFL Network interview last week when asked if the Ravens could ever win a Super Bowl with Flacco: "No, not at all, because they have to go through one team. That's the Pittsburgh Steelers in that AFC championship. In order to get to the Super Bowl, they have to beat us, and we're not gonna to let that happen once we get that close. So, that's not gonna happen in this lifetime."

That prompted a few soft returns from the Ravens: Flacco told a Baltimore TV station that Woodley "obviously doesn't know what he's talking about." Defensive end Terrell Suggs told a radio station there that Woodley "likes to talk out of his" ... uh, backside. And safety Ed Reed looked in to ESPN's camera Thursday, pro-wrestling style, to address Woodley: "You already know we're comin.' "

Woodley kept firing through social media.

On Twitter: "I'll take #7 as my qb over ANY qb in the nfl ... including u flacco."

On Facebook, aimed at Suggs: "Some quick facts 4 u — sacks last 3 seasons: ME-35 vs. you-23.5 ... SUPER BOWL RINGS: ME-1 vs. you-0."

Only the Reed comment went without response, as Woodley tweeted Thursday: "I'm done talking."

Woodley had no regrets about his instigating comment, mostly because he still can't conceive of a better way to answer the question that led to it.

"It's almost like a setup, like a lose-lose," Woodley told me. "If you say that a team in your division can win the Super Bowl, that means you're at home watching TV. Any competitor isn't going to say that a team in their division's going to win the Super Bowl. I mean, come on! That doesn't make sense."

It might have been Suggs, in that radio interview, who made the most sense of all this.

"Everybody's bored," Suggs said. "We all love football. We all miss it, and we need to get back to it."

Lockout permitting, the Steelers and Ravens will get back to it with the season opener Sept. 11 in Baltimore.

If only it were a night game.

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