“I want people to remember me for my football …But I also want people to remember the type of teammate and friend that I am.”
Aside from Number 17 (Philip Rivers), no San Diego Chargers player is more welcome and wanted back on this year’s offense than Number 39. Danny Woodhead is so many things to this team – a smart nimble playmaker, iconic locker room presence, revered workhorse – that his return not only marks a relief for the fan base, but a return to relevance for the team’s playoff hopes.
Lest we forget, his production during the 2013 season was remarkable – 76 catches, 605 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Plus, he led all NFL running backs in touchdown receptions and ranked second in both catches and receiving yards. All told, Danny’s presence gave Philip Rivers the ability to routinely transform 3rd-and-longs into sustained drives, points, and ultimately, a playoff berth.
Woodhead’s true value to the team came into even greater focus after he suffered a broken fibula against the Buffalo Bills just three games into the 2014 season. His absence from the field and locker room created a void that even Branden Oliver (also 5’ 8”, ironically enough) and his impressive numbers couldn’t fill over the duration of the season. And while the Chargers finished with an identical 9-7 record as in 2013, they were clearly a more vulnerable, and beatable, team.
Chargers.com editor Ricky Henne noted how much that injury impacted Coach Mike McCoy personally: “It’s a brutal business and injuries are part of the game unfortunately, but it means so much to him. That’s the toughest thing. When you see a guy like Danny that works so hard and puts so much time into his craft, what it means to him to be in the NFL and the opportunity he’s had here and success he’s had, it’s because of the way he works. The first thing he said to me after the game was, ‘Coach, don’t worry, I’ll be back. And I’ll be back stronger than ever, I promise that.’ So I can’t wait to get him back out here.”
At long last, that time is at hand. And Woodhead couldn’t be more pumped up. “It’s been a long process, but definitely it makes you hungrier when the game is taken away. It makes you realize how blessed you are to play it. Not that I didn’t understand that before, but when it is taken away for such a long amount of time, it makes you even hungrier. You miss being out there with your brothers. I’m excited for this season. I’m always excited, but my mentality might even be younger and hungrier than ever before.”
Now in his 7th year in the league, the 30-year-old Woodhead has the added distinction of being a “veteran” on the team, imparting tips and advice to rookies like Melvin Gordon – but only when asked. “I don’t want to ever think that I’m on some pedestal where I think I can’t take advice from others,” he said in an interview with Nick Harcourt on “Behind The Bolt. “…On the other hand, when guys ask, or if I see something on film that I can help with, I’m gonna.” And according to Gordon himself, Danny’s been a man of his word. “He’s like an OC out there. You gotta try and pick his brain.”
Going into Saturday night’s preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, Woodhead has seen a pretty light workload thus far, getting four touches for 13 yards with one nifty TD versus the Dallas Cowboys.
But as we get closer to the start of the regular season, all eyes will be on the diminutive running back who has a knack for catching the ball out of the backfield and moving the chains. “Having Danny Woodhead back on the field makes a difference,” Chargers offensive lineman D.J. Fluker told UT’s Matt Calkins. “It makes me enjoy being out there.”
He’s not the only enjoying it. Everyone else involved in the Chargers organization and fan base appreciates seeing him out there again, too. And fingers crossed, we’ll all get to see him carry out his “Sproles Role” deep into the playoffs, as well.
“I try and play with the enthusiasm of a little kid playing football. Because that’s what we’re doing, playing a little kids’ game. And this is fun.”
Woodhead’s stature may be kid-like, but his importance to this team and its success this year has never been larger than it is right now.