Oct 27, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor (2) holds off Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (56) as he looks for an open receiver during the first quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

LaMarr Woodley: 2014 Sleeper Alert

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Training camp is underway and speculation will be tested as we progress through one of the most exciting portions of the NFL season.  Analysts have spent countless hours making predictions while analyzing and characterizing teams and their players. Everyone has their 2014 season favorites, but find it difficult to rank the middle of the pack.  What teams will underachieve and which teams will exceed expectations?  There’s no reason it shouldn’t be this way as we’re talking about the National Football League.  Consisting of the best athletes in the world, this league is a true team game and the most competitive in all of sports.  No matter how good a team looks on paper, it’s hard to define a player in the same regard.  Every year, a handful of players break out during the season while no one even saw them coming.

Jun 2, 2014; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end LaMarr Woodley (57) at organized team activities at the Raiders Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This year, I believe one of these players is being overshadowed by other undervalued veterans.  Joining a team full of players with chips on their shoulders, Lamarr Woodley was also forced to quickly process being cut from a team that felt like they didn’t need his services moving forward.  The thing that many spectators fail to realize is the fact the Steelers had a young talent in Jason Worilds that made Woodley’s fat cap hit expendable.  By no means was Pittsburgh lacking physical presence from the former first rounder, and Woodley was simply the expensive odd man out. After being unappreciated by his organization, then called out by some of his former teammates, Lamarr Woodley plans on making some noise in 2014.  As a player and as a team.

LaMarr Woodley fell off in the statistical column when a calf injury hindered him in 2013, .  Although he averaged 0.5 sacks and 3 tackles per game last season, it wasn’t enough to persuade NFL fanatics that he was still a dominant player in the league.  During the past 7 seasons in Pittsburgh, Woodley started in 81/95 contests, recording 57 sacks, 9 forced and recovered fumbles, 5 interceptions, and almost 300 tackles.  (According to ESPN.com)  He was a staple in that dominant Steeler’s defense.

Lamarr Woodley was drafted by the Steelers in 2007 after being a part of one of the most dominant defenses in college football at Michigan.  Coming out of high school, the former Wolverine was ranked #1 at his position and the 14th ranked recruit in the country.  He has been apart of success throughout his life as a football player.  Just as Justin Tuck is able to boast a championships, Woodley is one of the few past and present players that can say they’ve won it all.  This man is primed to see success while playing a true team sport.  Like his role in the Oakland defense, having this experience, accountability, and expectation to win cannot be overshadowed.  I think Lamarr Woodley is truly a hungry, hard working leader that will play a huge role in our success defensively, and here’s why.

“You have to bring in players sometimes that come from winning programs that know how to win and let them lead sometimes, let them show you the way… I felt like during this offseason, they went and brought guys that went out there and know how to finish games. You bring that in here with the attitude that a lot of these players have and this team has, and I think you go to the next level.”

-Lamarr Woodley

After playing defensive end in college, Lamarr Woodley was asked to stand up as a 3-4 outside linebacker in Pittsburgh.  He was asked to cover tight ends, running backs, and sometimes wide receivers across the middle.  After posting a 4.7 40 yard dash time at the combine, Woodley was able to show the Steelers he could be just as efficient in pass coverage.  As the personnel merry-go-round began and key defensive injuries hampered Pittsburgh’s defense, Woodley was ineffective as he was schemed against and double-teamed.  The Steelers defense became irrelevant and players like Lamarr Woodley began to take the blame.

Not to downplay the effect of signing Justin Tuck, but Woodley didn’t have the quality fellow defensive lineman that Tuck dominated with throughout their Superbowl runs.  Besides the fact, he was an outside linebacker.  Woodley was in a sense being used as we foresee the Oakland Raiders utilizing Kahlil Mack’s.  In my opinion, Woodley was still able to dominant for 7 years while out of his position.  Now that his athletic ability has somewhat deteriorated, he’s able to return to a position that he was immersed in while growing as a player.

In today’s NFL, we witness a lot of defensive players changing positions as they close in on the end of their careers.  You see Charles Woodson and Champ Bailey now playing safety and many outside linebackers attempt to put their hand in the dirt to hide their pass coverage deficiency.  In Lamarr Woodley’s case, he belongs on the defensive line with his hand in the dirt.  Although he may have lost a step in his game, Woodley should possess a superior hand fight and first step off the line.  Even if his 40 time dropped a 10th of a second, he’s still quicker and faster than most NFL defensive ends.

 “I feel like just being in a 4-3 defense gives me more opportunities to rush the passer. Playing in a 3-4 defense I was asked to cover receivers and tight ends more. Putting my hand back in the dirt just allows me to go forward than backwards.”

-Lamarr Woodley 

Not only will he become a more effective pass fisher in 2014, the Raiders will be able to use him in a wild card position on 3rd down.  I know he’ll be a better pass rusher in a 4-3 defense, but it doesn’t mean his productivity will drop in a 3-4 alignment. Tarver likes to move his players around and this creates mismatches and keeps offenses guessing while lacking the ability to read our blitzes and schemes.  While we may see Justin Tuck play inside, we can’t anticipate that’s the only curveball Tarver is going to throw this season.

As I stated in my previous article, the performance of of defensive front 7 will have a drastic impact on the outcome of games this year as well as an improvement in pass coverage.  When you possess interchangeable pieces across this level of your defense, it gives you the ability to control the line of scrimmage and inevitably opposing offenses.  I think Lamarr Woodley is going to play a big role in the execution of play calls as well as game changing plays.

While many teams will focus on players like Tyvon Branch, Tuck, Mack, and Sio Moore coming off the edge, they’ll forget about the presence Lamarr Woodley has in this league and I won’t be surprised to see a double-digit-sack-season for the 29 year old.  The scheme Oakland plans on imposing this season will involve confusion and misdirection while our playmakers do what they do best, make plays.  At defensive end, along with his leadership presence, Lamarr Woodley will make plays for the Oakland Raiders in 2014.

 

Follow me on Twitter and be courteous in the comment section.  -Jt

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