Woodley on IR; future questioned

We get out the calculator and wonder if this is the end for LaMarr Woodley. That and other topics from Mike Tomlin's press conference.

Mike Tomlin wears white when he's in a good mood, but this time the Steelers' coach also brought bad news with him to his press conference.

LaMarr Woodley was put on injured reserve Tuesday, which ends his season, and maybe his career in Pittsburgh.

Woodley injured his right calf early in the Steelers' game Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. He entered the game off an injury to his left calf that had kept him out of the previous three games.

Citing the time it took Woodley to recover from the previous calf injury, Tomlin said the new injury "makes his availability pretty bleak."

A couple of hours later, the Steelers announced Woodley was placed on IR.

Woodley will miss the final two games, and will miss 14 games -- or 29 percent of the games -- in the last three seasons.

With the rise of Jason Worilds, Woodley and his high salary have become expendable this off-season.

Woodley has three years left on his contract. While cutting him would save $8 million in real cash, the Steelers would lose the player who at 29 years of age has 57 career sacks. The Steelers would also be charged an additional $580,000 against the cap because of the proration remaining on his signing bonus.

If the Steelers were to release Woodley after June 1, they would save $8 million both against the cap and in real cash. But they would be hit with another $8.5 million loss in the ensuing season.

It's been a media topic throughout the second half of the season, or since Worilds, who can become a free agent in March, raced to the team lead with seven sacks.

Worilds right now is the team's best outside linebacker. While Tomlin described Woodley's play, when healthy, as "solid," the Steelers will keep first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones as the blind-side starter.

Jones has only one sack this season but was active Sunday night against the Bengals. His highlight was a batted down two-point conversion attempt. Tomlin was asked if the proverbial arrow is pointing up for Jones.

"It really is," Tomlin said. "Although the numbers might not be jumping off the page at you, I really think he's getting in and playing harder and fast and displaying understanding at an increased rate every week. That's an element of playing well and producing plays. You've got to know what to do ... so you can play free and fast, and I see him doing that increasingly." Jones of course played 3-4 OLB in college, so he needs to add strength to tangle with NFL tackles and tight ends.

"I haven't had a young guy and said 'He's plenty strong enough,'" Tomlin said. "I probably could've said that about Woodley, but every other guy who's come in at that position, that's an area they could improve."


Terence Garvin is awaiting a fine from the NFL for his block on Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber during Antonio Brown's return for a touchdown Sunday night.

According to NFL rules, players are prohibited from making "unnecessary contact against a player in a defenseless posture," and one of those players in a "defenseless posture" is a punter during the return. "Unnecessary contact" is defined as hitting such a player in the shoulder, neck and head area.

So Garvin is expected to be found in violation by the league.

"The position he was in, to be a final blocker, is what he's coached to do," Tomlin said. "The nature in which the block unfolded is not what we're looking for."

Garvin took defensive snaps in a reserve role Sunday night and recorded his first tackle against the Bengals. The undrafted rookie linebacker from WVU also made a solo tackle on special teams, giving him eight to tie with Antwon Blake for second behind Robert Golden, who's made nine solo special-teams tackles.

"It's a blank canvas with him," Tomlin said of Garvin's future. "He played that hybrid position at WVU, half a DB, half a linebacker. That alone lends itself to special teams, which is where he's been able to distinguish himself. ... He's been consistent and productive. Guys who usually do it in that phase have the opportunity to do it on defense or offense."


* DE Brett Keisel (foot) and NT Steve McLendon are expected to return to the lineup for Sunday's game in Green Bay.

* In McLendon's place Sunday night, Al Woods made four tackles, hit the QB once and deflected a pass at the line. "This performance was better than his last," Tomlin said. "I thought his pad level was good. I thought he came off blocks and was productive in some areas. I'm excited about him." Woods, Keisel and another defensive end, Ziggy Hood, can all become free agents in March.

* Even though Green Bay rookie running back Eddie Lacy has rushed for 1,028 yards at a 4.1 clip, Tomlin said he would still draft Le'Veon Bell (646, 3.3 avg.) when he did, if Tomlin had to do it all over again.

"It was an easy decision for me," said Tomlin, who cited Bell's versatility, his pass-catching ability in particular.

Bell, who was drafted with the 48th pick, has 43 receptions. Lacy, who was drafted 61st and is two years older than Bell, has 31 receptions.

* To replace Woodley on the roster, the Steelers signed linebacker Jamaal Westerman, a five-year veteran out of Rutgers. Westerman was released by the Buffalo Bills on December 10, 2013. He has also played for the Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets. He has played in 57 career games with three starts.

* The Steelers signed inside linebacker Kion Wilson back to the practice squad to fill the hole left by the promotion of defensive end Brian Arnfelt late last week.

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