PITTSBURGH - It's too late to do any good, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are in a fighting mood.
Some players are apparently angry over a quote from an anonymous teammate questioning linebacker LaMarr Woodley's commitment to conditioning.
The quote appeared in a column written by Ron Cook for last Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
"He was awful [last season]. He tells us he works out, but we didn't see it. He wasn't in shape. That has to be a reason why he's always hurt."
That's pretty direct. The business of anonymous quotes always comes with some risk. Did the person really say it, or did the writer invent nameless support for his point?
I've known Cook for a long time, and I have absolutely no doubt the quote is legitimate.
Ryan Clark expressed his dismay with the public airing of private matters, and that's an issue for coach Mike Tomlin to address. While he's at it, Tomlin and his superiors might want to examine why one of the team's most important players is apparently comfortable with neglecting his conditioning work.
Woodley has had a series of nagging leg injuries, which suggests there's validity to the idea that he's not doing the work necessary to prevent those problems. How does that happen?
Football is a 12-month profession. The days when a player would take it easy in the offseason and use training camp to get in shape are long gone. The game moves quickly, and anyone who isn't in peak condition is going to be in trouble.
Woodley doesn't play on the line, where close combat might be more forgiving if someone isn't in shape. Linebackers are active, especially in the Steelers' system. They have to be able to rush the quarterback, stuff the run and drop back to help with pass coverage.
If Woodley isn't in prime condition, he's cheating the Steelers out of some of the $61.5 million contract he has.
Where is Tomlin while this is happening?
As a rookie coach, he had no problem publicly embarrassing veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton for being in poor condition. Hampton was assigned to work out on his own until he dropped weight.
What's happened to that standard?
If players are complaining about Woodley's work ethic - albeit anonymously - what do they think when Tomlin lets it go?
The pointed quote obviously reflects poorly on Woodley. But it's an indirect indictment of Tomlin, too.
The Steelers were 8-8 last year, the epitome of mediocrity. There's a lot of work to be done to get to this team back to a championship level.
It will be interesting to see how the head coach goes about tackling that task.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org