By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — LaMarr Woodley has downplayed it as much as possible, but the Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker looked like his old self when broke through the Washington Redskins offensive line to record a first-half sack Monday night.
It was a third-and-three situation in the first quarter, and Woodley dropped Redskins starter Kirk Cousins for a five-yard loss. So, it certainly wasn’t dramatic, but it was significant when one considers the Steelers pass-rushing woes in general and Woodley’s in particular.
“We had good pressure up the middle and coming off both sides,” Woodley said after the game. “Our secondary was holding up. When we do that, it allows for some guys to make plays. I was just the one to get in there a little bit faster and get the sack.”
This was significant because Woodley apparently is the healthiest that he’s been in nearly two years. Hamstring injuries were his primary downfall last season and during the second half of 2011. They led to weight gain and limited production, but that has changed this year.
Woodley, who reportedly ballooned to nearly 300 pounds at one point, is listed at 6-foot-2 and 265 pounds this year. He clearly is much leaner and quicker and should be more productive and consistent.
“I wouldn’t call it consistency because I got a little sack,” Woodley said Wednesday. “Some things you can’t control, like injuries, but I always felt the same about myself. When you’re injured, sometimes, you just can’t do it. You can try, but you can’t do what you want to do with the injury. Now that I’m healthy, I can do a lot more. (But) everybody is just playing together.
“When you get a sack, it’s not all about you. There’s other guys in the middle doing their job, and the guys in the secondary are covering to allow you more time to get to the quarterback. So, when everybody’s doing their jobs, that allows other guys to do more. Up front, we can apply more pressure if they cover better. And if we can apply more pressure, they can do more in coverage. So, we’re all working together.”
And the end result should be more splash plays like sacks and turnovers for the Steelers defense.
DJ Back at TE
More than one year after suffering a right knee injury that cost him the 2012 season and forced him to begin 2013 on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List, David Johnson was activated Wednesday and returned to practice.
“David Johnson was a participant today,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “It was good to have him back out there. He’s getting clearance to practice, and we’re going to base his performance based on what we see out here from an execution standpoint.
“Obviously, working is one thing, but we’ll see what he looks like tomorrow and see how his body responds to the work that he did today. (But) it’s a process, and there really is no script for it. We’re going to do what’s appropriate.”
Since the Steelers acquired Will Johnson last season to replace what he did as a fullback, David Johnson has returned to tight end. But that’s not a bad thing, since the club’s top two players there — Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth — are out for an extended period with injuries.
“It was great to be out there, really a blessing to be back out there with the guys,” David Johnson said. “It’s been a long road, over a year, so I’m really thankful for today.”
Johnson said he might be able to play against Kansas City Saturday night at Heinz Field, but even if he doesn’t play against the Chiefs he still should get one preseason game under his belt before the regular-season opener Sept. 8.
“It’s been a long road, a lot of training and a lot of dedication,” Johnson said. “But I kept my faith in God and just kept going at it every day, and every day I just kept feeling better. So, I was glad today to be able get out there and make it through one practice.”
Johnson noted that he had a second procedure on the already repaired knee the first day of training camp.
“I had to get some scar tissue removed (that) was blocking me from getting my full extension, even throughout my whole rehab,” Johnson said. “So, finally, after I got that removed I was able to straighten out my leg the whole way. And things really started progressing fast after that. So, it was way different.”
Johnson said it was “kind of like” riding a bike, returning to tight end after not playing there for a couple years. He currently will back up second-year player David Paulson.
“It felt right at home,” Johnson said.
Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen used the tired line that he was still day-to-day, as far as his injured right knee was concerned. Allen had surgery on his right knee Aug. 2 and wore full pads in practice for the first time Wednesday.
“This was a big step in the right direction,” Allen said. “After the injury, we still were evaluating it to see what I was dealing with, and then we took care of it. Then, it was just the rehab and getting back, but today was a big step. (And) I am making positive strides. … It all depends how this week goes.”
Allen added that things have gotten better for him every day, but he would not speculate on his playing status just yet.
In keeping with the injury situation, inside linebacker Sean Spence said he worked out without a brace on his left knee Wednesday. He is still on the PUP list, and those players generally train with assistant strength and conditioning coach Marcel Pastoor.
Tomlin had officials there to monitor Wednesday’s practice after all the penalties that the Steelers committed Monday night.