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Steelers' draft pick Woodley hits the field

| Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On his initial drive to Pittsburgh, one of the hardest players to block in college football last season nearly got stopped in his tracks ... by a toll collector.

Fortunately for LaMarr Woodley, he had accumulated enough change that when told "cash or check" after trying to pay for tolls in Ohio and Pennsylvania with a debit card, the former Michigan All-American was able to scrounge up enough money to pass through them.

And to think getting from Saginaw, Mich., to Pittsburgh turned out to be easier than getting onto the field.

The hamstring that caused Woodley to miss most of the team's recent mini-camp, however, has healed to the point that the Steelers' second-round draft pick smiled broadly Tuesday and proclaimed he is "good to go."

His teammate, first-round draft pick Lawrence Timmons (groin), didn't do much in the first of the 14 OTA (Organized Team Activity) practices that the Steelers will hold through the middle of June. But Woodley got plenty of work and proved to himself that, even though he was hurt, he did more than just stand around during the mini-camp practices held May 11-13.

"When I got a chance to come out here today, I was a little smarter than I was when I came out here a week ago," Woodley said.

The Steelers will need Woodley to keep getting smarter through OTAs and beyond because his learning curve is especially steep. The Steelers drafted the defensive end with the intention of moving him to outside linebacker.

Woodley played the position as a sophomore at Michigan, but he spent most of his time running forward, as in chasing the quarterback, and very little of it backpedaling, as in dropping back into coverage.

He figures to do some of both at his new position and probably will line up as an end at times because the Steelers seem intent on showing multiple looks on defense.

"I'm adjusting to linebacker right now," Woodley said. "I know I can go in there and play defensive end."

He proved as much last season when he racked up 16 1/2 tackles for losses and 12 sacks on the way to winning the Lombardi Award, which is given to the top lineman in college football.

The Steelers are confident Woodley can handle more than just a change of positions. He has been assigned No. 55, which had been worn for the better part of the last decade by Joey Porter, who is fourth on the Steelers' all-time sacks list.

"I can't worry about who had it on before me. All I can be is me," Woodley said. "I'm just going to go out there and play my game."

What makes that tough for any rookie to do is the system overload to which they are subjected at this level.

"When you know what you're doing, the play slows down for you," second-year wide receiver Santonio Holmes said. "When you don't know what you're doing, it speeds up everything and you're out there lost."

Just getting on the practice field yesterday was a positive for the 6-foot-2, 265-pound Woodley, who is gradually losing weight with the hopes of getting to 255 or 260 pounds.

His learning also hasn't been confined to the football field.

When he was ready to return to Pittsburgh for OTAs, Woodley made sure he didn't have to rely on spare change to get him through the toll booths along the way.

"I got my money this time," he said.

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