This might be a little premature, but with all the speculation that LaMarr Woodley could be released by the Steelers this offseason, it got me thinking about how disappointing he has been in recent seasons, after getting off to such a promising start early in his career. Thinking of Woodley and his career also got me thinking about another Steelers linebacker that, at one time, looked destined to be an all-timer, but whose career flamed out seemingly overnight – Kendrell Bell.
The first time Bell really came onto my radar as a guy to keep an eye on was during his rookie camp when he made heads turn by stonewalling Jerome Bettis on a goal line drill. This was a prime Jerome Bettis, mind you, not the past his prime 2005 version. Nobody stonewalled him, yet the young rookie LB out of Georgia did.
From there, he went on to have an outstanding rookie season, finishing with 83 tackles, 9 sacks and earning the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Bell was on the fast track to be the next Jack Lambert, the next Greg Lloyd – he was physical, nasty and could just lay the lumber on people. Steelers fans, myself included, LOVED the guy and I think everyone was expecting a long, prosperous career for Bell in Pittsburgh.
Those a little longer in the tooth will remember what happened next – Bell immediately injured his knee to start the 2002 season and, while he did come back to have a decent year in 2003, it was really the beginning of the end for his career in Pittsburgh. Multiple knee injuries later, Bell would play out his NFL career in Kansas City and would come nowhere to fulfilling his limitless potential.
While not a perfect match, it’s hard not to see some similarities between Bell’s career path and that of LaMarr Woodley, who has never really returned to the form we saw from him in his first couple of years in the league. Bell had the knee, Woodley the hammy.
Again, not saying Woodley is done in Pittsburgh, but if we are playing what-ifs here and assume he is done, who would you say has been the bigger disappointment?