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Elusive Danny Woodhead ignites Chargers' offense

SAN DIEGO -- San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers gave running back Danny Woodhead high praise when asked to describe his teammate’s ability on the field.

“He’s a football player, and you’ve heard me say that before,” Rivers said. “My dad always said the best compliment I can give someone is he’s a football player, and that’s what Danny is. He just understands.

“He doesn’t take very many big hits. He knows when to get skinny and take two extra yards. He knows when to try and make a big play. And he’s so smart on understanding how to win on certain routes.”

After missing most of the 2014 season with a broken ankle, Woodhead has returned to his play-making ways. The San Diego Chargers running back leads the NFL in yards after catch with 476. Among running backs, Woodhead is first in receiving yards (443) and third in total catches (39).

But what stands out most is his ability to make a defender miss in the open field.

“It’s never a bad feeling if you can leave someone behind,” Woodhead said. “It’s always a good feeling because you didn’t get tackled by the first guy. You want to get as much as you can after you catch it or after the first contact.”

With Rivers leading the NFL in passing through eight weeks, Woodhead has proved to be a reliable outlet out of the backfield.

“It’s a two-fold thing,” Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “One is Danny’s ability to create leverage, create space and create windows for Philip to throw into. And then Philip has the ability to find him and get him an accurate throw.

“Because if you get a guy who’s already created leverage and created space and separation, then with his athletic ability I think that’s why Danny is doing so well with yards after catch.”

Another thing that stands out for Rivers about Woodhead is his athleticism. At 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds, Woodhead ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash time and posted a 38.5-inch vertical at his pro day coming out of Division II Chadron State in 2008.

Along with that athleticism and strength, Woodhead plays with anticipation, which allows him to make big plays.

“Naturally, you don’t see Danny Woodhead and think -- super-fast, super-athletic -- all of those things,” Rivers said. “But he is. So he’s got the physical tools. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s smart, that he prepares and does all of those other things also.”

The modest Woodhead would rather not talk about his physical attributes and accolades on the field. He points to the fact that it’s a team game, and without others doing their jobs, he wouldn’t have the opportunity to make plays.

Like Rivers says, it’s the football player in Woodhead.

“I say this all the time and it probably gets annoying for people, but it really, legitimately takes 11 people on the field,” Woodhead said. “And when you get it right, that feels good. And maybe it’s a juke move by one of us after the catch, but none of that would happen without the whole team doing what they’re supposed to.”