Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Woods's hits keep on coming

Linebacker holds nothing back

By Christopher L. Gasper

August 12, 2008

FOXBOROUGH - Pierre Woods doesn't discriminate. If you're on the field and you're in his way, then the third-year outside linebacker is going to hit you. He doesn't care who you are, friend or foe, arch enemy or family, quarterback or even a teammate defending a runback.

"I'll hit my Momma. I'll hit whoever. It doesn't make a difference," said Woods. "You've got equipment on and you step on the field in between the lines and it's, 'Hey, you ready to get hit?' It's full tilt. It doesn't make a difference. They're going to hit me, so why not me hit them?"

Woods's aggressive nature was evident in the Patriots' preseason-opening 16-15 loss to the Baltimore Ravens last Thursday night. While most of the focus following the game was on the play of rookie linebackers Jerod Mayo and Shawn Crable (a college teammate of Woods at Michigan), it was Woods who made the biggest impact.

Filling in as a starter at outside linebacker for Mike Vrabel, who didn't play after coming off the physically-unable-to-perform list last Tuesday, the 6-foot-5-inch, 250-pound Woods set up the Patriots' only touchdown of the game with a fourth-quarter strip-sack of Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and finished with three tackles.

It was a continuation of what coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots saw last season from the 26-year-old Woods, who has grown from strictly a special teams player to a reliable backup at outside linebacker behind Vrabel and Adalius Thomas. It was a glimpse of why Woods was on the field early in the Patriots' 17-14 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

What most remember about Woods in that game is the fumble he let slip through his grasp and into the arms of New York running back Ahmad Bradshaw. But what was lost was the fact that with Rosevelt Colvin out for the season, Woods had earned the confidence of the coaching staff to be on the field in the most important game of the year.

If anybody knows what Crable (outside linebacker) and Mayo (inside linebacker) are going through trying to learn the Patriots system, it's Woods, who joined the team in 2006 as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan. That's one of the reasons Woods has taken Crable, a fellow Ohio native whom Woods has known since Crable was in the eighth grade, under his wing, just as Vrabel, Colvin, and Thomas mentored Woods.

"My first year, my head was spinning. My second year, my head was spinning. My third year, my head is still spinning," said Woods. "It doesn't stop. It's always something new that you have to learn around here. That's the good thing about being here - you learn a lot. You've got great coaches and great players around you, and you can always learn from them."

Part of what Woods has learned is that being overly physical isn't always necessary. Last year, he injured fellow linebacker Eric Alexander when he hit him too hard with a celebratory shove after Alexander made a tackle on the opening kickoff of the Patriots' 48-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

At times Woods's exuberance might be misplaced, but it's also what makes him a good fit in New England, where an infatuation with football is a prerequisite.

"Football is fun. It's always been fun to me. I love football," said Woods. "I always have loved football. There is nothing else in this world that I will ever do besides play football. Where else do you get to hit people and you don't go to jail for it or nothing like that? I mean, I'd hit your mother if she had equipment on."

That comment drew laughter from the assembled media. Woods was playing to the crowd a little bit, but his point was made.

With Colvin now playing for the Houston Texans and Vrabel still working his way back, Woods has an opportunity to push for more playing time and to prove that his apprenticeship at outside linebacker is nearly complete.

It's an opportunity Woods doesn't take lightly.

"Every day, you have to come out here and you have to work hard because anything can happen," said Woods. "Just like last year and [Buffalo Bills tight end] Kevin Everett and some of the [NFL] guys who got killed last year. This is always an opportunity. God has given us the ability to be out here and play football and use your talents and everything, so why not take full advantage of that?"

Woods then referenced a group of disabled children from the AccesSportAmerica program who visited practice yesterday to illustrate just how lucky he is to have a chance to play in the NFL.

"They can't do the things that we do," said Woods, who signed autographs for the children after the walkthrough practice, along with Belichick and the rest of the team. "By us being out here and walking over to them, that put a smile on their face and made them happy. Anytime you see that, it makes you feel happy. It makes you feel good inside. Your heart starts to melt."

That's the paradox of Pierre Woods. He's a big hitter with a big heart.

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