Wesley Woodyard’s two NFL seasons have proven that a player doesn’t need hype or expectation — or even to be drafted — to earn teammates’ respect.
The former college free agent’s election as one of the Broncos’ seven captains last season was proof enough of that.
But in the NFL, leadership can take time. As Woodyard transitions from young player working hard to find a niche to veteran on an experienced defensive unit, he’s learning what it takes to be a leader at football’s highest level.
One lesson Woodyard, who has made his mark as one of the Broncos’ best special teams players, picked up along the way is that someone is always watching and listening, whether it’s on the practice field or in the locker room.
In the linebacker’s mind, leading by example is one of the most important ways to reach the newest group of youngsters.
“You really don’t notice what you’re doing in my situation,” Woodyard said. “I really don’t think too much. When you see a guy that you know is going to be a good player and can be a good player, you just try to encourage him.”
Sometimes that’s enough to make a big impact.
Earlier this offseason, rookie Kevin Alexander, an undrafted free agent from Clemson, cited Woodyard as one of the players who made him feel comfortable on the defense right away.
When Alexander earned reps with the first team defense during minicamp, he said he relied on Woodyard’s positive approach to pull him through what could have been an overwhelming time.
“(Woodyard) said, ‘Keep your head up,’ even if I messed up,” Alexander said. “He was just like, ‘Keep coming, rookie. Keep working.’”
Dicky Lyons said his former Kentucky teammate has always been the type of player that others gravitate toward and look up to because of his hardworking attitude. The first-year Bronco said that hasn’t changed in Denver.
The team won’t name its 2010 captains until the season draws closer, but it’s clear that Woodyard continues to emerge as a leader.
It’s a role the 23-year-old is becoming increasingly comfortable in.
“You never know how far your word can go,” Woodyard said. “I just try to just go out there and be myself. Hopefully, my work ethic and my skills and everything that I’ve learned since I’ve been in the league will rub off on some of these young players.”