Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker and local lardo, LaMarr Woodley, was recently shelved for the season by being placed on IR for a calf injury…. again. Once again Woodley’s season ends far below the expectations that a $61.5 million contract would demand. He has just 18 sacks in three seasons, and has been hurt in all three seasons. He’s shown up to camp overweight and far from being a top LB in the league, as he once was thought of just prior to his big contract extension. His attitude in the locker room is a poor as his performance is on the field. He is no stranger to criticism – from the main media as well as our own folks here – and is quickly being pushed to the executioner’s block by those same people (and then some). But, after reading an article yesterday about a certain coach’s comments about the recent changes in workout limits, I began to wonder if players like Woodley are being set up to fail and falling victim to the rules?
The AP article reports some comments from Mr. Happy Pants, coach Bill Belichick. He is unhappy with the recent rules about workouts (offseason and during) and believes that they are contributing to the recent rash of injuries that are shelving players. In a conference call to Buffalo reporters, he had this to say,
I’m in favor of total preparation for the players for the season. And I think that’s been changed significantly and, I would say, not necessarily for the better when you look at the injury numbers.
The AP reported that Belichick believes players are less prepared than they were before the agreement because of the restrictions placed on offseason workouts and training camp.
Personally, I think that’s taking the wrong approach. You have a gap between preparation and competition level. And I think that’s where you see a lot of injuries occurring. We get a lot of breakdowns. We get a lot of situations that players just aren’t as prepared as they were in previous years, in my experience anyway.
As much as I would love to take Captain Sweatshirt and dump him in the most polluted part of the Monongahela, the architect of Spygate brings up some very good points. They aren’t revolutionary. There was quite a bit of concern raised by many pundits, media types, and coaches when the new workout rules became part of the new CBA between the players and the league. Is the dismissal of the ‘Two-a-days’, other offseason workout requirements, and padded practice restrictions the cause of players like LaMarr Woodley to show up to camp unfit for the NFL and then injury prone as the season wears on?
Personally, I feel like the players got away with a big crime when the league agreed to the new practice rules. Just like thieves, they are stealing away money from the consumers – us, the fans – with these new rules. The league will dispute that the new rules are contributing to injuries (though the refuse to release hard data on it), but we know how well the league handles and comes out on top when they dispute any sort of health related issue and the game – i.e. concussions. But there’s no doubt in my mind that the fans get bit the most because they have to watch players’ whose contracts put a financial bind on the team ride the pine with injuries that are related to poor conditioning.
Okay, I’m sure 99.99% of you out there have been thinking this whole time, “How in the world does this mean Woodley is a ‘victim’ of the new rules?” Well, quite honestly, he’s not a victim at all. His unwillingness to stay in shape (and dare I say get better) and unwillingness to lay off the pork rinds during the offseason is his own choice. But the rules invite that kind of behavior. Woodley signed a big contract and came to camp looking like the Stay Puft’s little cousin. Woodley, and other players like him (who sign these big extensions after a ‘great’ single season performance) are no longer accountable for staying in shape and prepared to play big boy football. They sign their contract and no longer have to show up for what used to be mandatory OTA’s, workouts, and rigorous training camps. It breeds a poor attitude. And, that has not gone unnoticed with Woodley. As pointed out by the Trib’s Dejan Kovacevic, Woodley’s attitude has become abrasive and unapproachable at times in the locker room – which is a huge swing from where he was when he first joined the squad coming out of Michigan. Dejan puts it rather well,
His failure to keep himself in peak condition has infuriated the Steelers at all levels, especially the coaches, who look to veterans to lead, not lag, in that area. He has reported to camps overweight. He’s visibly slower and weaker than ever. And, most maddening of all for those involved, this latest calf injury was another of the soft-tissue variety, the kind that drive coaches nuts. Woodley got paid, got fat, got hurt. It’ll happen again. There’s more: Upon joining the Steelers from Michigan, Woodley was among the most approachable, amicable players in the team’s circle. But he has changed dramatically, no doubt coinciding with his dropoff. He has become abrasive and aggressive with people inside and outside the team. He has also consistently found a way to blame everyone for his dropoff except the man in the mirror. It’s been ugly and uncomfortable to watch.
Woodley is not an isolated case, and I believe we will witness more of this kind of evolution (or is it de-evolution?) happening in the league. And what’s a team and its coaches to do? After a year or two of obvious lack of effort and production (that then leads to constant injury), are teams supposed to just take vicious cap hits by releasing the offending party? Teams are cornered and (pardon the expression) hamstrung. There’s no way out, and the players are smart enough to realize this.
So while the practice and workout rule changes may not be directly responsible for the Steelers having a $10.1 million dollar problem on its hands in 2014, those recent changes certainly have encouraged that kind of behavior and attitude with something that was supposed to be practiced in good faith. Not every player will take advantage of this situation. Most players want to work as hard they can. They want to be Pro Bowlers for more than just a year. They want to win championships and try to be known as one of the best to ever play they game in their respective position. But unfortunately for the Steelers, the got burned with Woodley – and it has indeed been ugly and uncomfortable to watch.