Coming off a knee injury that abruptly ended his four-year run with San Diego, running back Danny Woodhead is starting anew with an old rival.
How strange it is to see Woodhead with the Baltimore Ravens, given that he once tormented them as a member of the New England Patriots.
“Maybe the first few days, it was a little different,” Woodhead said Tuesday after the opening session of minicamp. “But being here a couple of months now, I feel right at home. I really do.”
The Ravens signed Woodhead to a three-year contract in March soon after the free agency period started. It didn’t matter to Baltimore that he tore his right ACL last September, or that Woodhead was on the other side of those memorable duels between the Ravens and Patriots from 2010-12.
What counted was that the 5-foot-8 battler would provide an immediate boost to the passing game.
“He was somebody that we targeted early in free agency and signed him right out of the gate,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s a very versatile running back for us. He can carry the ball, but he’s a big part of the passing game.”
Not since the days of Ray Rice have the Ravens had a running back with a knack for getting open in the flat, slipping behind linebackers or even breaking downfield to challenge a safety.
“Ever since we lost Ray, we haven’t had the type of back quite like Ray was and quite like Danny is in the passing game,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “They just have a very good feel for when they’re open, how to get open, how to sit in holes, how to find my eyes.”
Woodhead, 32, began his career in 2008 as an undrafted free agent with the New York Jets. A diminutive player out of a small school in Nebraska (Chadron State College), he arrived in the NFL with something to prove.
Nine years later, nothing has changed. Before the Ravens signed receiver Jeremy Maclin on Monday, some of the critics said the team hadn’t done anything to improve the offense during the offseason. So, what does that say about Woodhead?
“When haven’t people thought I’m not very good?” he said. “I didn’t take it as a slight. It doesn’t hurt my feelings. It’s never hurt my feelings.”
There weren’t many negative things said about Woodhead in 2011, when the Patriots took an unbeaten record into the Super Bowl. He had seven carries for 18 yards and caught four passes for 42 yards and a touchdown, but the Patriots lost to the New York Giants.
Now, he’s poised to begin the next chapter in his quest to earn a Super Bowl ring.
“It’s definitely a fresh start with a new team. As far as the ACL, I really haven’t thought about it,” Woodhead said. “I’m out there trying to compete and trying to win. If I have a route called or I’m supposed to pass protect, if I’m thinking about the past, I don’t think that helps me win.”
It hasn’t taken long to establish a rapport with Flacco, who’s been delighted with his new weapon out of the backfield.
“Sometimes it can take a while, but I really feel like it only took us a couple days,” Woodhead said. That’s a positive. But there’s a lot more we can do. In order to be great, we have to keep progressing. We want to be the best.”