But like anyone, it seems, with an ailment, Woodley went to Arizona to train with James Harrison, Max Starks, Ryan Clark, Stevenson Sylvester and several other members of the current team, and he claims to be as good as new.
Or at least as good as he was during the first half of the 2011 season.
"The ankle just took time to heal," Woodley said. "Throughout the season, when you have a high ankle sprain, you're struggling to push back each and every day in practice. Sometimes you set yourself back in practice and don't even know it, then you try to go out there in a game and you're just not a hundred percent. So what I did before I went to Arizona, I had to just take time. Even when I was out there in Arizona the ankle still was bothering me. It took time to heal."
Woodley was cruising along the 2011 season with 9 sacks in 8 games, and was on a clear path to sack Tom Brady for No. 10 when Woodley went down in the open field as if he'd been shot.
He's only had 4 sacks since that day, due to a combination of injuries, an injury-plagued season by bookend James Harrison, and more dropping into coverage than Woodley could ever remember.
"They pay me to rush so hopefully I'll be rushing and not covering receivers and tight ends down the field," he said of the coming season. "I felt I dropped back a lot in coverage last year, but that's part of the scheme. But I would definitely like to get back to doing more rushing than dropping back in coverage, because my game is predicated on sacks. This defense is predicated on getting after the quarterback, making the quarterback make bad decisions, and allowing our secondary to make plays."
The defense has also been predicated on getting pressure from both outside linebackers. Harrison is gone now, and Jason Worilds will start in his place. Worilds is making his coaches happy with his understanding of the position and performance so far in camp. He'll get help this season from No. 1 draft pick Jarvis Jones, who drew Woodley's praise.
But Jones at times this camp has been blocked rather easily by marginal talents such as Jamie McCoy on Wednesday.
On Monday, Jones impressed with his hands, and his coverage, but didn't show much explosiveness in one-on-one drills. Woodley shrugged that off.
"So what if you hit a (pass-blocking) running back with a lot of contact?" Woodley said. "That doesn't mean you're going to get to the quarterback. It might mean you'll just knock him back. Sometimes the soft touch gets you to the quarterback quicker than the hard stuff."
Woodley would know. He's gotten to the quarterback 63 times, counting playoff games. And after training – and healing – in the dry heat of the desert, he's expecting a few more.
NOTES – Add rookie defensive end Nick Williams to the injury list. He left Wednesday's practice with a knee injury of unknown severity. ... Cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Terry Hawthorne missed practice again with minor knee injuries but could return any day. ... Cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, as expected, will miss significant time, according to Tomlin, with his hamstring injury. ... Tight end David Johnson, already on the PUP list, underwent minor knee surgery last Friday and won't be able to return to the field for at least two weeks.