If you made a Jets running depth chart on May 14, Thomas Jones would probably be No. 1, Leon Washington No. 1A and rookie Shonn Green would most likely fill the third slot.
But Jones, who reportedly isn't happy with his contract, has skipped all of the Green & White's off-season voluntary activities, Washington, who wants a new contract, halted his participation this week, and Green is not allowed on the premises until next Monday.
So Danny Woodhead is not only the Jets top running back — he is their only running back.
"The thing is you have to be ready when your name's called and this week I've got a lot of reps," said Woodhead, the 5'7", 195-pound first-year player from Chadron State. "My job is just to prepare for the opportunities that I get and that's all I can do. Once those opportunities come, I have to go out there and do what I can, do my best."
While Jets head coach Rex Ryan is disappointed that his two Pro Bowl veteran RBs are not with their teammates, he's encouraged by what he's seen of the 24-year-old man whose 7,692 rush yards at Chadron set an NCAA record.
"I'm not going to sit here and say I don't wish [Washington] was here," Ryan said. "Of course I do, but it does provide us an opportunity to get a look at Woodhead, and quite honestly, I'm impressed with that young man."
Having originally signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent a year ago, Woodhead possesses lightning quickness. He's a little blur, bouncing into a hole or running a pass pattern.
"He's a tough kid. They bounce him around and he just bounces back up," Ryan said of Woodhead, whose rookie season ended in training camp when he tore his left knee. "He gives as well as he takes. The other thing I noticed is he can really catch the football."
At a recent workout, Calvin Pace had the unenviable task of covering Woodhead. Pace, a tremendous athlete and as fluid a defender as you'll find, didn't win the matchup with the young runner.
Woodhead, Ryan said, "actually beat him to the boundary and turned it up on him. I was like 'Wow, I never thought I'd see that.' So the young man has some ability, there's no doubt."
There is also no doubt that Woodhead has found more of a comfort zone with his teammates. He's become more vocal and he's bouncing around, congratulating players after good plays.
"I've done that a lot, but Schotty [offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] and Coach Ryan want us to fly around. They want the tempo to be high and I'm just trying to keep my tempo high and doing whatever I can do to get to the ball," he said. "Those wide receivers who are making catches, they are blocking for us in the run game and you have to help them out when they catch the ball."
Running backs coach Anthony Lynn had just three backs at his disposal today in ageless fullback Tony Richardson, Woodhead and young hybrid Jehuu Caulcrick. While Woodhead is receiving valuable reps with both the first and second offenses, Caulcrick is also getting more time.
"Everything is going smooth. We're out there doing our thing. It's a great opportunity," said Caulcrick, a 6'0", 255-pounder who spent most of '08 on the Jets practice squad. "Danny and I are out there having fun, we're getting an opportunity to display what we have to the coaches, going against the ones and twos, and getting the amount of reps we are."
Woodhead is an iconic figure at the small-school level. He rushed for 200-plus yards in 19 college games and reached the end zone 108 times. So he's no stranger to getting lots of touches and is thankful for the increased workload.
"I'm doing all right. This is what everyone wants — they want to get as many reps as possible — and I'm cherishing this," he said. "I don't have enough time to think about if I'm sore or tired."
The Jets' personnel might look a little different in the backfield, but the system is the same. And while fans and players might not like the business side of the NFL at times, there are moments when it helps youngsters trying to make a climb to the top.
"Obviously, we all love Thomas and Leon and miss them when they are not here," Ryan said, "But they're handling their own personal stuff, and we're doing what we're doing with Danny, Jehuu and T-Rich. It's more reps for them and they are all benefitting from it."
Woodhead is making the most of his moment. He'll have to excel on special teams when Jones and Washington return, but he's already made a favorable impression on his head coach. And whether he's No. 1 or No. 4 on the depth chart, his approach will remain the same.
"We want the offense to keep running smoothly and we're doing our best to make things work. That's going to come with hard work and studying," he said. "I've been doing that and I plan on doing that whenever they come back."