Cardinals linebacker LaMarr Woodley goes through a drill in front of linebackers coach Bob Sanders during recent Phase 2 drills.
LaMarr Woodley loves basketball.
He's also close with Golden State Warriors star forward Draymond Green – they both hail from Saginaw, Michigan – and the two recently put together an AAU club basketball program. The intent was not just to develop players but students. Every coach has to have his college degree, and education is stressed.
"We want kids that go to college," Woodley said. "Everybody can't go to the NBA."
Or the NFL, for that matter, which remains Woodley's primary job. The University of Michigan product has his bachelor's degree and is working
on his Master's degree, but at age 30, the Cardinals' new outside linebacker is also confident his years playing football aren't over yet.
He knows some doubt that. Woodley spent the first seven years of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, playing well. The Steelers decided not to bring him back in 2014, and he signed a lucrative deal with Oakland.
But he played just six games before tearing his biceps muscle, with no sacks. The Raiders released him. Suddenly, he finds himself in Arizona, playing on a one-year, minimum-salary contract – one of General Manager Steve Keim's "prove-it" free-agent deals.
Woodley knows the perception is that his career is winding down. But he just turned 30 in November, and not surprisingly, he disagrees with the assessment.
"I think people lost track of how old I was because of the success I had early," said Woodley, who had 57 sacks in his first seven NFL seasons. "You look at my second year, I was starting, went to the Super Bowl, had all these sacks. People are like, 'Oh, he's getting old.' No, I'm just 30 in November. I'm not (old)."
Both Woodley and new Cardinals linebackers coach Bob Sanders, who was on the Raiders' staff last season, said Woodley was playing well in Oakland before the injury even if the statistics did not show it. Woodley also felt he was playing somewhat out of position, working as a defensive end in the Raiders' 4-3 alignment instead of his familiar outside linebacker role in a 3-4.
The scheme is one of the things that attracted Woodley to Arizona, as did familiar faces like Sanders, head coach Bruce Arians – who was on the Steelers' staff while Woodley was there – and former Steelers' teammate Larry Foote.
"Watching us, he knew what type of style we played," said Foote, now the Cardinals' assistant linebackers coach. "And where he is in his career, he's got to re-introduce the league to who he is. There is no better defense to do it in than this one. That's basically what I told him. We have a good relationship and he trusts me."
Foote knows how this can work. His 2013 season was wrecked by an injury, and he used the Cardinals' scheme to emerge in a bounceback year as a player in 2014.
"You get humbled in this league," Foote said. "He's going through it. It's out of his hands -- he's been injured. But people that know him close, who played with him and have seen him, when he's healthy, he's tough. It's a win-win for both of us."
The Cardinals have a handful of options at outside linebacker. They have Alex Okafor, who broke out with eight sacks last season. They drafted Markus Golden and Shaq Riddick, they moved Kareem Martin from defensive end, and they still have Lorenzo Alexander. Woodley isn't guaranteed a spot on the roster, but his ties to Arians and experience figure to give him help in his fight to make the team.
"He's got a lot of pride, and he's a true professional," Sanders said.
Woodley said he wasn't looking for a lot of attention on the free-agent market – just the right team. At some point, he plans to get his Masters in Sports counseling and management, even if he isn't quite sure how he'll put that to use. If for no other reason, it'll give him more of a foundation to guide his young club basketball players.
That's later, though. Football is still the top sport on his agenda.
"I'm still writing my story," Woodley said.
The Cardinals continue with Phase 2 of the offseason workout program