FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The season-ending leg injury to right tackle Sebastian Vollmer has cast the spotlight on backup Marcus Cannon, who will take Vollmer's spot as the starter on the right side of the offensive line.
Cannon couldn't ask for a much tougher first assignment than Steelers linebacker Lamarr Woodley.
A 2009 Pro Bowler, Woodley has consistently ranked among the best pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebackers, regardless of sack total, and he currently ranks fourth in that group with 16 pressures, five hits and five sacks.
He was seen as a hybrid defensive end-outside linebacker coming out of Michigan; he wasn't considered a perfect fit for either profile, but the Steelers saw the potential and were rewarded with one of best second-round picks in the 2007 draft.
"Woodley's got a bull rush and he's really strong and can work the edges, too," said Ravens guard Marshal Yanda, via MASNSports.com. "He kind of lulls you to sleep by trying to bull you, bull you, bull you, and if you can't stop the bull, then he's going to run you over all day. When you get him stopped a little bit, then he's going to work his hands. He's a football player. He's an athlete. If you set for the edge and Woodley gets under your pads, then you're going back. That's just the way it goes with him."
He logged a sack in four consecutive games from Weeks 3-7, including this sack against the New York Jets in Week 6. Woodley lined up in a two-point stance at his traditional spot of left outside linebacker on the strong side.
The initial formation suggests Woodley might be blocked by the tight end, but the tight end released into a route and left right tackle Austin Howard to take care of Woodley on his own.
Woodley charged hard straight upfield, and Austin Howard was a bit slow in his set to try and get a block on Woodley. By the time he had even gotten in position, Woodley was already past him, and had hit his right foot, beginning to bend the corner as he dipped his shoulder away from the punch of Howard.
The big right tackle was still nearly able to block Woodley out of the play, but the veteran linebacker hustled his way around the backside and brought Jets quarterback Geno Smith down from behind.
This ended up being an effort play, but it was made possible by Woodley's incredible burst at the line of scrimmage.
Cannon had to deal with a player with some top-notch burst when he faced off against Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake last week, after Vollmer went down.
On this play, Wake rushed hard at Cannon, which played right into his hands. The right tackle was able to stand up the defensive end, keeping his quarterback clean and allowing him to make a downfield throw.
Cannon has been versatile between the tackle and guard spots in his young career, but he's never been known for quickness, and coming out of TCU, the consensus was he'd have to stay at guard, where his size and power would be best put to use.
At the time, Wake was still battling back from a knee injury -- although, after getting three sacks against the Bengals on Thursday night, it's safe to say he's close to full health again. He'll get everything Woodley has.
This being a Dick LeBeau defense, though, we'll see Woodley rush from all over the defense.
Against the Ravens, for example, he looped through the A-gap behind the defensive tackle, who rushed slightly to the outside shoulder of Yanda. That allowed Woodley to get free up the middle, where running back Ray Rice was unable to get an effective block on the linebacker, who simply sidestepped the running back as he continued on his path to the quarterback.
Cannon will have to block Woodley one-on-one at some point, but Woodley's going to rush from all over the field. It's up to the Patriots offensive line as a whole to diagnose where he is before the snap to make sure he is accounted for as a versatile pass-rusher.
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