By Matthew Marczi
Player: Al Woods
Position: Defensive End/Nose Tackle
Experience: 4 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2013 Salary Cap Hit: $630,000
2013 Season Breakdown: Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers were reportedly interested in Al Woods in the 2010 NFL Draft, it wasn’t until later that season when the New Orleans Saints released him that the Steelers signed him to their practice squad. He was later picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It would be another year before Pittsburgh was able to get him back, after the Seattle Seahawks released him mid-season in 2011.
Despite that, Woods hardly saw any playing time along the defensive line in 2012. Yet with the absence of Casey Hampton this summer, Woods was given the opportunity to run as the second-team nose tackle, ahead of Alameda Ta’amu and Hebron Fangupo—proper nose tackles—which served him well in preparing him for some playing time this season.
Woods wasn’t overly active early on, averaging only about 8-10 snaps per game for the majority of the season. With the limited amount of playing time, he had difficulty doing much to distinguish himself behind the top three defensive ends on the depth chart, and with the Steelers using so much sub-package football, even Steve McLendon was struggling to garner time at nose tackle.
It wasn’t until later in the year, when McLendon suffered an injury, that Woods was able to log significant snaps in a game, starting with the Cleveland Browns. In that first meeting between the two teams, Woods managed to notch not one, but two sacks in 33 snaps, and he also made four tackles.
Woods started at nose tackle twice over the course of the next three weeks as McLendon battled his injured ankle. He had a fairly quiet game in his first start, but he played his best ball a couple weeks later against the Cincinnati Bengals, again notching four tackles in 37 snaps, while also batting down a pass.
The two games bookmarking that start against the Bengals saw Woods struggle some, particularly when it came to playing the run. He also had some issues in the season finale. For his first year as a regular contributor, however, he played very admirably, especially given the fact that he was asked to play at multiple positions.
Free Agency Outlook: I would be lying if I said I knew what the Steelers planned to do right now. That’s because I don’t know what the team’s intentions are when it comes to long-term plans for the defensive line. If they don’t see McLendon as a long-term answer at nose tackle, they could draft one, and move McLendon back to defensive end in a year or two.
That would play in the favor of Brett Keisel to be brought back for another year or two. It would also decrease the need to bring Woods back. If I were to guess, however, pre-free agency, pre-draft, I would think that Woods would be in their plans as a versatile player that knows the defense. He could bump Ziggy Hood out of the picture as a cheaper option, though that’s far from assured. Woods himself still has a lot to show before he can be counted upon.
Other Steelers Free Agent Player Analysis
Ryan Clark - Unrestricted Free Agent
Emmanuel Sanders - Unrestricted Free Agent
Brett Keisel - Unrestricted Free Agent
Jerricho Cotchery - Unrestricted Free Agent
Ziggy Hood - Unrestricted Free Agent
Jason Worilds - Unrestricted Free Agent
David Johnson - Unrestricted Free Agent
Jonathan Dwyer - Unrestricted Free Agent
Fernando Velasco - Unrestricted Free Agent
Cody Wallace - Unrestricted Free Agent
Will Allen - Unrestricted Free Agent
Stevenson Sylvester - Unrestricted Free Agent
Felix Jones - Unrestricted Free Agent