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VOL. 43 | NO. 35 | Friday, August 30, 2019

Versatile Woodyard fits in confidently

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Wesley Woodyard works out in a recent Titans practice sesssion in Nashville.  

-- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey

Wesley Woodyard is a self-made player.

And as a self-made player, Woodyard is a guy who has always put the team first, put in his own hard work and then lets things work themselves out.

For Woodyard, there probably wasn’t much other choice coming into the NFL as an undrafted rookie from the University of Kentucky to the Denver Broncos 12 seasons ago. Woodyard spent much of his time in Denver as a special teams player and backup linebacker, only starting the majority of the games with the Broncos during his final two seasons there.

Woodyard signed with the Titans in 2014, and has never started fewer than 10 games in any of his first five seasons in Tennessee. The past two years, have been some of the best of his career with 100-plus tackles both seasons and starting every game he was available for (30 of 32 games).

Now at age 33, Woodyard, however, finds himself in another transition. For the vast majority of training camp, 2018 first-round pick Rashaan Evans and third-year pro Jayon Brown have been running with the first team defense.

That has left Woodyard running with the second group and moving into what appears to be more of an insurance policy role, in case Evans or Brown sustains an injury.

“Right now, my job is to be prepared and be ready to go and to get my young guys ready and make sure they don’t make any mistakes out there on the field, and try to help them improve their games as well as mine,” Woodyard says.

While Woodyard no doubt would still like to be starting 16 games a year, if that is not in the cards this fall, he plans to make the most of every opportunity and be the kind of supportive teammate he has always been.

“I can only control what I can control, and right now, that’s going out there and being full throttle and making every play I can make on the field and helping my teammates be great players on the field,” Woodyard adds. “It’s just a transition for right now. It definitely doesn’t change the way I come to work.

“I still feel like I’m a starter. There is no beef in the inside linebacker room but I can only control what I can control, and that’s going out there and being the best player I can be.”

Head coach Mike Vrabel appreciates Woodyard’s approach to the situation, saying he too still considers the veteran a “starter” on the defense, even if he is not one of the first 11 on the field for the first snap.

“We feel like we have three starters at that position. Wesley’s been nothing but a true professional his entire career,” Vrabel acknowledges. “We’re kind of in a very favorable situation that we have a guy in Wes that can play both positions.

“He can play Mike (middle linebacker), he can play Will (weakside linebacker), can play our third-down package. He knows everything very well, and so he’ll work his way in there where there will be a role for him in the rotation that we’ll have once the season starts.”

Woodyard says he believes that as complicated as Dean Pees’ defensive scheme is, there will be some packages that will have him on the field for his share of snaps.

“I definitely think so. I definitely think our coaching staff does a great job of mixing up different schemes and different looks,” Woodyard continues. “We haven’t set anything up, but I feel like we’ll have some packages where I’ll be out there on the field.”

Another place Woodyard will continue to be a vital contributor is on special teams – the very thing he initially made his mark with as a rookie with the Broncos way back in 2008.

Vrabel knows that special teams is a part of the game that Woodyard takes seriously and will continue to be a mainstay for the Titans.

“He’s heavily involved in special teams. It’s something that he made his career, that’s where he broke in is special teams. He takes that very seriously,” Vrabel adds.

“He’s a leader of that group and I see him talking, meeting and coaching with younger guys that are coming in and are kind of new to the special team’s work. From my standpoint, he’s handling whatever role that is very, very well.”

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