From 2008 to 2010, LaMarr Woodley was a terror as an outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Over those three seasons he had 35 sacks, three interceptions, seven fumble recoveries and 126 tackles in 47 games. He went to a Pro Bowl and was named to the second team of the 2009 All-Pro team when his 13½ sacks were third in the league.
In seven seasons with the Steelers, he helped Pittsburgh win its sixth Super Bowl and was one of the team’s foundations on defense.
But now, at age 29, the 6-foot-2, 262-pound Woodley is making a huge transition, having signed with the Raiders as a free agent to play defensive end.
Woodley is just one of several key players being plugged in to a revamped defensive unit, including veteran defensive linemen Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith, No. 1 draft pick Khalil Mack at linebacker and ex-49er cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers.
The Raiders defense wants to be aggressive in 2014 and go after opposing quarterbacks, and the coaching staff believes Woodley can be a big part of that from defensive end rather than the outside linebacker position he played for so many years.
And that’s just fine with Woodley. He’s looking forward to the challenge and he likes the blitzing, stunting defensive scheme of head coach Dennis Allen and coordinator Jason Tarver.
“Seeing how guys were flying around on defense and getting after people, after talking to coach (Allen), that’s what he wanted me to do,” Woodley told Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group, about why he signed with Oakland. “He wanted me to rush the passer more than drop back in coverage. I felt with the kind of people that were on their defense and adding me, I felt like I could help the team win.”
In Pittsburgh, he played outside in a 3-4 scheme; in Oakland he’ll be an end in a 4-3 scheme.
“Putting my hand back in the dirt (as a defensive end) just allows me to go forward than backwards,” he told the media recently. And, he says, his size is just fine. There’s no need to bulk up in transitioning from oversized outside linebacker to undersized defensive end.
“I’ve been this size forever,” he said. “I was big playing outside linebacker in Pittsburgh, but now playing defensive end, I don’t really need (to bulk up).”
This week, Woodley is getting his first taste of his new duties and team in the Raiders’ first organized team activities (OTAs) sessions, and he’s having fun. It’s making him eager to work toward the season.
“It was just a learning session. It was learning,” he said after the first practice this week. “It was new guys on this defense, new guys on this team. … It was guys actually playing together for the first time, going out there and communicating. I kind of felt like the whole OTA process is a learning experience, and opportunity to learn about one another.”
After an assortment of injuries in 2013 allowed him to play just 11 games for Pittsburgh, he was released by the Steelers. Still, in those 11 games he had five sacks. Woodley is convinced he still has some big years ahead, and hopes to prove it over the next two seasons with the Raiders, who signed him to a two-year deal worth a potential $12 million.
“I want to rush the passer and get sacks,” he said earlier this month while being honored at his Saginaw, Mich., high school. “I think that’s how I can help a team win. Now, that’s my main job. I’ll be rushing the passer 90 percent of the time. … Now I don’t have to worry about dropping back and trying to cover a 180-pound receiver. I can just focus on getting to the quarterback.”
Added Woodley: “It’s just the start of another chapter in my career.”