LB coach likes what he sees from Woodley

CINCINNATI -- Andy Dalton is just 1-3 in his career against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If the Steelers are to saddle the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback with another loss, they are going to have to make things very uncomfortable for him tonight at Paul Brown Stadium.

And nothing would help the Steelers more in that department than if LaMarr Woodley re-introduces himself to the nation as one of top pass-rushers in the NFL.

Woodley hasn’t been the same since suffering a serious hamstring injury midway through the 2011 season.

The seventh-year veteran recorded the Steelers’ only sack in a season-opening loss to the Tennessee Titans, and linebackers coach Keith Butler likes something else about Woodley when he looks at the bigger picture.

“LaMarr is probably in as good a shape as he has been since I’ve been here,” said Butler, who arrived in Pittsburgh long before Woodley.

“He looks like he is almost 265, but I know he isn’t,” Butler said with a laugh. “But he’s not far from it. This is as close as he’s been in awhile.”

Woodley is listed in the Steelers’ media guide at 265 pounds. But those weights are nothing if not dated as they rarely change following a player’s arrival in Pittsburgh.

The 6-2 Woodley has probably played closer to 285 than 265 in recent seasons. His weight became an issue in the offseason when an anonymous teammate ripped his work ethic in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The withering criticism was more of a surprise since it came from inside a locker room where players often describe their solidarity as a brotherhood.

It nonetheless shed additional light on the fact that Woodley registered just four sacks in 2012, his lowest total since his rookie season, and missed three games because of hamstring and ankle injuries.

Butler said the high-ankle sprain that Woodley suffered in the 10th game contributed most to what turned out to be a lost season for one of the highest-paid players in franchise history. That dreaded sprain happened a month after Woodley returned from a hamstring injury.

“It wasn’t something that you could say ‘OK, LaMarr’s fat butt was out of shape.’ That wasn’t necessarily the case when he did his ankle,” Butler said in defense of Woodley. “That (injury) has nothing to do with his will or the type of condition he’s in.

"The biggest thing is for him to try and stay healthy, and that’s what we’re going to do with those outside linebackers and I think we’ll be OK.”

The Steelers will spell Woodley at left outside linebacker with Jason Worilds in an attempt to keep Woodley fresh and healthy for the entire season.

That doesn’t mean they have lowered expectations for Woodley, whose 52 sacks in his first six seasons are the most of any player in franchise history since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.

Butler has talked to Woodley about how the fast start to his career -- as well as the six-year, $61.5 million contract he signed in 2011 -- has raised the bar for him.

“You see countless number of players on the waiver wire that’s had great contracts that you’re saying, ‘What are those guys doing on the waiver wire?’ The reason they’re on the waiver wire is their productivity hasn’t matched what they’re making,” Butler said. “And that’s just a fact of life in the league. I wasn’t trying to challenge him. I was trying to reiterate those facts, but he knew them before I told him. He knows.”