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Steelers linebackers look to regain snarl

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 1, 2013 at 5:01 pm •  Published: August 1, 2013
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When one couldn't play, however, offensive lines would shift their focus to neutralizing the other. The result was a team sack total that dipped to just 37.5 in 2012, the franchise's lowest since Woodley joined the team as a second-round draft pick out of Michigan in 2007.

Pittsburgh believes it may found Harrison's eventual heir in rookie Jarvis Jones, who led the nation in sacks last year at Georgia. Like Harrison, Jones is an instinctive pass rusher. Even better, thanks to his background as an inside linebacker, Jones is quickly grasping the intricacies of his new responsibilities in defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's 3-4 scheme.

"It's not a big stretch for him to learn what to do," Butler said.

Yet the Steelers didn't make Jones the Steelers' highest drafted outside linebacker since Huey Richardson in 1991 to go chase tight ends and running backs. And they didn't pay Woodley all that money to do the same. To be honest, he's ready to get back to the fun part of his job.

"My game is predicated on sacks and this defense is predicated on getting after the quarterback," Woodley said.

Getting there — or getting close — can force opponents into mistakes. That didn't happen nearly enough in 2012. Though Pittsburgh finished No. 1 in total defense for the fourth time in nine years, the Steelers created just 20 turnovers, including four in a meaningless season finale against Cleveland.

The inability to flip the field or make the "splash" plays that Woodley made so regularly earlier in his career contributed to a dismal 8-8 finish. Woodley knows it won't be tolerated. So does his coach.

"It's a prove it year for all of us," Butler said. "This league is like that. Every year if we don't do well, we all get fired. I wish America was like that, we'd all be more productive."

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NOTES: Free agent guard Nik Embernate left practice with a knee injury coach Mike Tomlin termed significant. Embernate, a rookie from San Diego State, needed to be taken off the field in a golf cart and was in obvious distress after getting hurt during a drill ... LB Jason Worilds was also limited in practice with what Tomlin called "discomfort" in a big toe ... CB Cortez Allen, slated to start across from Ike Taylor when the season opens, did not practice again due to knee soreness ... The Steelers practice again on Friday evening at Saint Vincent College. The team was forced to move its traditional "Friday Night Lights" practice at nearby Latrobe Memorial Stadium because of concerns about the grass on the high school field.

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