NFL: Little Big Man tries again with Jets
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. ó Danny Woodhead walks around the New York Jets’ locker room looking as if he’s just somebody’s kid brother.
After all, he’s only 5-foot-71/2 and a tuft of chin hair is the only proof that he’s even old enough to shave. He might not look the part, but the former NCAA career rushing leader certainly believes he belongs in the NFL.
“I don’t like to think of me as just an underdog,” Woodhead said during minicamp. “I’m another football player out there. That’s kind of how it’s been my whole life, and I’ve always just shrugged and laughed at that because I think it’s kind of funny.
“I don’t think they have me on this team because I’m an underdog.”
He’s got that right. Woodhead, who joined the Jets last summer as an undrafted free agent, is back on the field after a serious knee injury in training camp and is impressing his new coach with his intense approach and elusive moves.
“Clearly he can run with the football and things,” Rex Ryan said before comparing him to another of his boyish-looking players. “First thing I noticed was, ‘Hey, there’s another Jim Leonhard out there.’ We got the two guys that look like your next door neighbor and stuff like that, but that’s good. Certainly, Jim Leonhard has proved people wrong and I think (Woodhead’s) got a chance as well.”
The 24-year-old native of North Platte, Neb., opened plenty of eyes and became a fan favorite during training camp last summer after he was signed as an undrafted free agent. Woodhead appeared to be a nice complement to Thomas Jones and Leon Washington until he tore up his left knee, ending his season before he even played in a preseason game.
“I knew something wasn’t right,” Woodhead recalled. “It’s not a fun feeling, but you’ve got to take it for what it is.”
A long rehabilitation followed and Woodhead used his faith, as well as support from his wife, Stacia.
“It was really tough, but you can’t dwell on it,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re never going to get back. I was pouty for a couple of days and I wasn’t happy by any means. You’ve got to make the best out of it.”
Woodhead ended up on injured reserve but stayed with the team and absorbed as much of Brian Schottenheimer’s offense as he could while trying to get his knee back in shape. He said he’s feeling 100 percent and acknowledged that the first critical test came several months ago.
“I remember the first time I was jogging, that was the best feeling,” he said. “I was just kind of doing stuff on my own again and I was like, ‘You know, I can get through this.”‘
His old No. 35 jersey ó he changed to No. 22 this offseason ó hangs in the trainer’s room in honor of being selected as the rookie who best exemplifies a professional. Not bad for a guy still looking for his first real NFL snap.
“It might be a fresh start, but it’s not a fresh start in the sense that I have to learn the playbook, and that’s huge,” Woodhead said. “I’m very comfortable with where I’m at.”
Woodhead, who’s a solid 200 pounds, has looked explosive in the first few practices.
“Whenever you’re still on a team,” he said, “that’s always a good sign.”
He even took part in an amusing moment Friday, when Ryan ó who’s at least 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds ó ran down during kickoff coverage and was blocked by Woodhead, a David versus Goliath-type scene that prompted lots of laughs.
“He did throw a block,” Ryan said with a chuckle. “I’m still hurting over that.”
Woodhead rushed for 7,962 yards in four seasons at Nebraska’s Chadron State and was a two-time Harlon Hill Trophy winner as the nation’s top Division II player.