All Wesley Woodyard does is make plays.
He was an all-state player at LaGrange High because of his ability to find the ballcarrier, he was the leading tackler in the Southeastern Conference his last two years at Kentucky, and through the first two games of his NFL career, he stands atop the tackles chart for the Denver Broncos in the preseason.
It remains a wonder, then, why Woodyard was not taken in the NFL draft.
Seven rounds of the draft came and went without Woodyard’s name being called, but there were a number of teams who wanted to sign the former Granger as an undrafted free agent.
Woodyard chose the Broncos, and he’s been one of the team’s best players halfway through the preseason schedule.
Due partly to some injuries to other Broncos’ linebackers, Woodyard has played a lot, and he has responded with 13 total tackles, 12 of them of the solo variety.
Woodyard has also been a force on the kickoff and punt teams, which could help him make the team.
All Woodyard wants-all he’s ever wanted- is a chance, and he intends to make the most of it.
“My goal is to make the team and be the best player I can,” Woodyard told a newspaper in Longmont, Colo. “The only person that can cut me is myself. If I go out there and I make a lot of mistakes, then it’s going to be easy (for the coaches). I just try to go out there every day and get better at what I do.”
If Woodyard ever needs to lean on anyone for advice, he doesn’t have to look far.
Tyrone Poole, a fellow LaGrange High graduate who has been in the NFL for more than 10 years, signed with the Broncos last week as a cornerback.
Poole hasn’t played in the NFL since 2006, and he’s hoping to make the Broncos’ regular-season roster.
Poole made his preseason debut last week against Dallas and had one tackle.
A player who doesn’t have any concerns about making the team is Walt Harris of the San Francisco 49ers.
The LaGrange High graduate has been a starter for the 49ers the past two seasons at cornerback, and he’s accumulated 12 interceptions in two years.
As for Woodyard, his first chance to make an impression came in the preseason opener against Houston.
The impression was a favorable one as Woodyard had eight solo tackles to lead the team.
“He gets out there on the field, and when the lights go on, he ended up making plays and kind of shining,” Broncos’ defensive coordinator Bob Slowik said.
In Week 2 against Dallas, Woodyard had another solid game with five total tackles, giving him a team-high 13.
“Getting a chance to go out there and fly around against some of the best guys and see what I can do, it gives me a lot of confidence,” Woodyard said. “I just have to continue to get better.”
Woodyard was an All-SEC player for two seasons at Kentucky, and he was regarded as one of the country’s top defensive players.
Yet when the NFL draft arrived, Woodyard’s phone didn’t ring.
Woodyard was considered by many to be too small to play linebacker in the NFL, so he went undrafted.
The proof is in the numbers, though.
Woodyard’s speed, desire, football instincts and sure-fire tackling ability have made him a dominant player on every level so far.
“Once I learn the position and get a chance to fly around, I use my speed to make plays,” Woodyard said. “In the game of football, my instincts always take me to the football.”
Woodyard has two more chances in the preseason to prove that he deserves a spot on the Broncos’ regular-season roster.
Denver hosts Green Bay on Friday before finishing its preseason at Arizona Aug. 29.
Denver has had some key injuries at the linebacker position, which should help Woodyard’s cause. He’s also shown himself to be an impact player on special teams, which helps as well.
All Woodyard wants to do is get on the field and play the game that’s meant so much to him.
“Playing the game of football is something that I love to do,” Woodyard said. “Anytime I get on the field, I’m going to try to compete and be the best at what I’m doing.”
While Woodyard is a newcomer to the professional game, Poole and Harris have been at it a long time.
Poole came into the NFL in 1995, and he’s been a steady player everywhere he’s been.
In 2003, he had a career-high six interceptions for a New England team that won a Super Bowl.
Poole has 18 career interceptions.
Poole tried to make the Houston Texas’ roster in 2007, but he was cut before the season began, and he didn’t play that year.
Harris, who made his NFL debut in 1996, is in his third season with the 49ers.
Harris has 32 career interceptions, with 12 of them coming the past two seasons with the 49ers.
After an eight-interception season in 2006, Harris earned his first Pro-Bowl selection.