In 2008, Mike Shanahan liked Wesley Woodyard's speed, his attitude and his on-field savvy, he liked what Woodyard’s future might be. So, Shanahan and the Broncos kept the former University of Kentucky linebacker around, elevating the SEC's tackles leader to the 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie.
With plenty of road traveled since then, Woodyard is still with the Broncos, he's still fast, smart and a respected leader. And six seasons later, Woodyard is still carving out a bigger role with the team seemingly with each passing season, finding ways to fill needs and solve problems, as the guy who saves the day after somebody else's trouble.
Last season Woodyard, who had been special teams ace and spot player on defense, became a full-time starter at weak-side linebacker when D.J. Williams was suspended for the first nine games of the season. By the time the year was over Woodyard had put together a remember-when season and was just the 12th player since the sack became an official statistic in 1982 to finish with at least 100 tackles, at least five sacks and at least three interceptions in the same year.
Woodyard was the first do that in the league since Brian Urlacher in 2007. Woodyard's athletic enough that Shanahan once played him at safety and such a rock-solid guy in the locker room he’s been a team captain for three different head coaches -- Shanahan, Josh McDaniels and John Fox.
“I’ve always believed I could play this game,’’ Woodyard said. “But it’s about getting the opportunity and being ready for the opportunity. Last season I got it and I made sure I was ready for it.’’
This season another suspension has pushed the Broncos defensive plans off the drawing board as they wrestle with the prospect of Von Miller missing the first six games of the season because Miller violated the league’s substance abuse policy. So, now as defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio plays the mix-and-match game to deal with the loss of his best defensive player, Del Rio has moved Woodyard to middle linebacker as the first step.
“Wesley can play multiple spots,’’ Del Rio said. “He’s done that for us here. We’re looking for combinations. We’ve been moving guys around a lot ... but Wesley showed last year he’s a good football player. (He) played a lot of snaps for us and (was) very productive for us. We’re going to get the best combinations of people on the field when we can and put a plan together to utilize them to the best of their abilities and go from there ... Wesley is one of those guys who gives you a lot of options because of all he can do.''
Given Woodyard has practiced at middle linebacker this week and figures to start there Saturday night against the Rams -- the third preseason game when the starters are expected to play into the third quarter -- Woodyard is on track to get the start there against the Ravens in the regular-season opener. Woodyard is also in the final year of his contract -- with a $3 million base salary -- so the Broncos will face a decision at the end of the season about the long-term future of a player they have called upon once again to fix a defensive dilemma.
“I’ve always just wanted to be a guy that didn’t pout, didn’t complain no matter what was going on. And if you’re really a leader and not a guy that just says you’re a leader, you come to work no matter what with the idea you’re going to help the team win a Super Bowl, no matter where they put you. That’s just how I look at it.’’