FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Damien Woody never will forget the first time he met Rex Ryan. It was a few minutes after Ryan's introductory news conference with the New York Jets in January 2009. The exchange was vintage Ryan, who shook Woody's hand and promptly reminded him of a one-sided game from their past.
"The first thing out of his mouth was, 'You remember that ass-whipping we gave you?'" Woody recalled Thursday with a big laugh, referring to a 1997 game between Boston College and Cincinnati.
Ryan was the defensive coordinator for Cincinnati, which won 24-6. What he didn't tell Woody in that initial meeting was that he was so impressed by his play at center that he voted for him on his All-America ballot.
Thirteen years later, Woody's position is different -- right tackle -- but he's still drawing compliments from Ryan. And with good reason. Woody turns 33 next week, but he continues to defy the laws of time and physics, protecting Mark Sanchez's front side.
On Sunday, Woody will encounter his most difficult challenge to date, Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who leads the NFL with 8½ sacks. Matthews, 24, is younger and faster than Woody, who broke into the league only three years after Matthews' father, Clay Sr., retired from football. But here's some advice for young Mr. Matthews: Pack a lunch.
Woody, the senior member of the Jets' offensive line, is having a terrific season. He has allowed only one sack, according to STATS LLC -- not bad when you consider the Jets have dropped back to pass a total of 188 times.
He's a former center and guard known mostly for his run blocking, but in two-plus seasons as the Jets' right tackle, Woody has proved to be an underrated pass protector.
"I've done a pretty good job in that department," he said confidently, "and I don't plan on that changing anytime soon."
That was a not-so-subtle message to Matthews, who will encounter an atypical right tackle. Woody (6-3, 327) is shorter and wider than most at his position, which should put him at a disadvantage against tall, athletic and long-armed edge rushers. If he came out of BC now, the pro scouts would take one look at his body type and move him to guard.
"He probably doesn't get Pro Bowl recognition because he's not 6-6," Ryan said, "but he does a tremendous job for us."
Woody thrives in a land of giants because of exceptionally quick feet and textbook technique, attributes that have enabled him to buck an offensive-line trend. You always see tackles get moved to guard because they slow down as the years go by, but Woody has moved inside-out. He's an anomaly.
He started as a center, a first-round draft pick of the New England Patriots in 1999. That makes him a three-decade player. He won a Super Bowl ring with them in 2001. Made the Pro Bowl, too. After that, a series of unforeseen events led to position changes.
In 2003, the Patriots lost their left guard to an injury, so they moved Woody to left guard. It was his free-agent year, and he did so well that the Detroit Lions signed him to a big contract and kept him at guard -- right guard. Late in 2007, the Lions were unhappy with their right tackle, so they slid Woody there. He caught the eye of the Jets, who signed him to -- you guessed it -- a big free-agent contract.
"I've actually flipped it the other way, moving outside to tackle," Woody said. "It really extended my career because I'm not playing against 300-pound defensive tackles."
Woody has a 70-pound advantage on Matthews, and that will help in the running game, but keeping the Packers linebacker away from Sanchez isn't going to be easy. Matthews, who played with Sanchez at USC, is "slippery," according to Woody. And relentless.
"He probably plays as hard, if not harder, than anyone I've seen this year," Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "He's just a great football player that, trust me, we'll have eyes on at all times."
Eyes and Damien Woody.