|Why Danny Woodhead has become one of the most important parts of the Patriots offense||10.18.12 at 10:37 pm ET|
FOXBORO — In an offense full of big names and larger than life personalities, it’s easy to underestimate the 5-foot-8, 200-pound Danny Woodhead. But in his third season with the Patriots, the running back has become one of the most important parts of the New England offense.
Last season, he was the only skill position player to finish with at least 15 catches and 15 rushing attempts. (He ended the year with 77 carries for 351 yards and 18 receptions for 157 yards.) And this season, through six games, he’s the only one on the team who has reached double digits in receptions (10 for 115 yards and a touchdown) and carries (40 for 144 yards and a touchdown).
When everything was melting down for the Patriots Sunday against the Seahawks, Woodhead was one of the only elements to the New England offense that continued to do well. The undersized running back was the only player on offense to register a first down for the Patriots for the last 10 minutes of the game (he had two of them over the last 10:30 of regulation), and he finished with five catches for 46 yards and four rushes for 25 yards.
His versatility and dependability — with 10 catches on 11 targets this season, his 91 percent reception rate is the highest on the team of anyone with at least 10 targets — have sparked comparisons to veteran Kevin Faulk, who filled the role of third-down/changeup back for several seasons in New England before retiring. It’s a comparison offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was asked about this week.
“Danny is obviously a very important player for us,” McDaniels said. “He’s made a lot of critical [plays], whether it’s catches or runs, third-down protections or blocking blitzers. Danny has filled that role and done a really nice job with it.
“Kevin was certainly one of the best Patriots ever and had a great career and did a lot of similar things, [but] I think they’re different players. Danny did definitely show up and make some important plays for us [against Seattle] like he has all year.”
In his third season with the Patriots, Woodhead may not yet be the equal of Faulk, but there’s plenty to like about his game this season. In addition to his work as a running back, he’s provided value on special teams as well, where he was New England’s the primary kick returner last year, and spent a portion of the 2012 season working there as well. And in 276 touches (214 rushes, 62 receptions) in his two-plus seasons in New England, he’s only fumbled twice.
The former Jets heads into Sunday’s game against his old team as one of the most versatile offensive options in the New England offense, so as is usually the case, he’s ready for pretty much anything when the ball is kicked off.
“Honestly, I don’t look at my role or whatever. My role is whatever coach puts me out there to execute my job, and that’s what I’m going to stick to doing my best whenever I’m on the field,” he said. “We’re going to do whatever coach plans on calling. If it’s run the ball, we’ll run the ball. If it’s pass the ball, we’ll pass the ball. So we trust our coaches with whatever plays are called.”
For the last several seasons, New England has always carried a veteran running back on the roster, not only to contribute but also to work as a mentor to some of the younger guys. Whether it was Faulk, Sammy Morris or Fred Taylor, there was always someone older to help show the younger guys the ropes.
And now, with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen (both 23) in their second season and 22-year-old rookie Brandon Bolden rounding out the depth chart, the 27-year-old Woodhead now finds himself in the odd role of elder statesman of the New England running back crew.
“It’s not something I think about too much,” he said when asked about being the oldest guy in the running back room. “I like to think of myself as a young guy still. Make me feel old. Whatever it may be — if I’m older, I guess I’m older.
“[But] we’re very close unit. All of us are great friends – a very, very, very unselfish group of guys. That’s what you need in a room like that. Everyone, when we get off the field, the other guys, they’re the first ones to be there to congratulate you.”
When asked if his seniority means he’s grown into more of a leadership role this season, Woodhead shrugged.
“If guys have questions, I’m always there to answer them, just like if I’ve had questions for others, those were answered,” he said. “Whatever I’m supposed to do, I’m going to try and do it to the best of my ability.”
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