Danny Woodhead has a history of being overlooked.
After all, the 5'9", 195-pounder is one of nine undrafted Jets and one of eight Jets players not from Football Bowl Subdivision schools (formerly D-1-A schools) on the roster. After spending last season on injured reserve with a knee injury, Woodhead played well in the preseason, was waived before the season opener, subsequently was signed to the Green & White's practice squad, then moved up to the active roster on Oct. 17 after injuries to wideouts Brad Smith and Jerricho Cotchery.
The young man, who rushed for 7,962 yards at Division II Chadron State, was given No. 83 and listed as a wideout. He made his pro debut against the Bills on Oct. 18, playing special teams, then went back to the backfield and recorded his first career carries late in the fourth quarter of the blowout win at Oakland in Week 7.
But last weekend, Woodhead experienced a breakout against the Buccaneers. In his most action to date, he had seven touches for 52 yards (four rushes for 17 yards, three catches for 35 yards).
"It does feel good to be out on the field, but as far as special teams, offense or whatever, I'm going to try to seize my opportunities," he said this week. "But it was good to be out there on the field with the offense."
The Jets used Woodhead a lot in their third-down package — five of his seven touches came on third down, including a pretty 24-yard sideline reception that set up Jay Feely's third field goal. On the Jets' final drive of the first half, Woodhead produced 22 of the 31 yards on the drive to another Feely field goal and a 19-0 halftime lead.
Now that he's playing and making his mark, Woodhead says he doesn't feel any more part of the team than he was before. It's an open locker room and the veterans don't shun the youngsters hoping to improve.
"With the guys we have in here, everyone makes you feel like you're part of the team no matter what," he said. "Practice squad guys are as much a part of the team as anyone else. We need practice squad guys and we need the active guys. Everyone is a part of it. It's just everyone doesn't see the field on Sundays. I always felt a part of this — I don't think me playing more has really changed much because everyone around this locker room has made me comfortable."
The Jets love Woodhead's short-area quickness and he can present matchup problems with linebackers out in space.
"I haven't really had an opportunity to play like that yet," he said of getting some room to create. "I like to use my quickness and my speed to my advantage, but I guess I haven't had that quite yet this year. We'll see."
Despite losing Leon Washington to a broken leg in Week 7, the Jets lead the NFL in rushing and are averaging 169.1 yards per game. Washington is an electrifying weapon, but Thomas Jones has been solid as ever with 1,167 yards and rookie Shonn Greene has pitched in with 353 yards.
"That's a tribute to our offensive line, and obviously TJ and Shonn have been running awesome," Woodhead said. "Did we take a hit when we lost Leon? Yeah, it's Leon Washington! But it's our job to just do what we can, all of us running backs, and T-Rich has done a great job. I mean, it's Tony Richardson."
With offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer telling Mark Sanchez the importance of dumping the ball down to the backs if nothing is downfield, you might see more receptions for Thomas Jones and Woodhead down the stretch.
"I've always been confident in catching that ball. That's never been something that I've ever really worried about," said Woodhead, who has five receptions and six special teams stops. "It's definitely something I've felt comfortable doing and I enjoy doing."
One of Woodhead's trademark lines is "Football is football." As a player, he views himself as just one of 53 and he'll do anything to help out.
"If opportunities come like that and you're catching the ball — great. And if it's running, blocking — great," he said. "I'm going to take advantages of the opportunities I'm going to get."