Losing Woods leaves hole at defensive end


PITTSBURGH -- The Tennessee Titans announced the signing of defensive end Al Woods to a multi-year contract on Wednesday night, marking the Pittsburgh Steelers' first significant loss to free agency.

Woods did not play much until the end of the 2013 season, but the fourth-year veteran started two games and acquitted himself well in the first extensive action of his NFL career.

Woods, who turns 27 years later this month, recorded 20 tackles and two sacks and drew interest from the Packers and the Cardinals before signing with the Titans.

The Steelers have just three defensive ends on their roster -- Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood are free agents -- and only one of them (Cameron Heyward) has any meaningful NFL experience.

Hood visited the Jaguars on Wednesday, according to the Florida Times-Union, and he is unlikely to return to the Steelers.

Keisel wants to keep playing and finish his career in Pittsburgh but the team has been quiet on the 12th-year veteran's front in regard to the Steelers.

It is way too early to say that the Steelers are in a dire situation at defensive end. But they have some work to do to replenish the position, and they can't rely on the draft to yield one or two players who can contribute immediately at defensive end.

The position is one of the hardest to learn on the Steelers defense in large part because so many college teams play a 4-3, and 3-4 ends generally played tackle before advancing to the NFL.

Defensive line coach John Mitchell is one of the best in the business but the Steelers are going to have to provide him with players to work with as they continue to re-tool a defense that has been in transition.

Earlier Wednesday the Steelers lost tight end David Johnson, who signed a two-year contract with the Chargers.

Johnson had played just five games the previous two seasons because of injuries, and he didn't project as more than the Steelers' No. 3 tight end in 2014.