INDIANAPOLIS - Danny Woodhead played a significant role in the offense for the Patriots in 2010 as a running back and receiver. He accounted for 926 yards from scrimmage and scored six touchdowns.
His contributions dipped significantly this season. Woodhead scored one touchdown and produced 508 yards in 15 games. Woodhead lost opportunities when Kevin Faulk returned from knee surgery in late October. The Patriots also wanted to see what rookie running back Stevan Ridley could provide. Woodhead’s biggest value came as a kick returner.
Along with the shift in personnel, Woodhead was literally knocked off kilter during a preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Aug. 18. While covering a punt late in a game the Patriots had well in hand, Woodhead was blindsided by Devin Holland and took a huge hit. Woodhead got up quickly, but had to be helped to the bench.
“It has been a little different year for me,’’ Woodhead said this week. “But I feel like I’ve contributed to the team.’’
Woodhead could have a significant impact on tonight’s Super Bowl. If the Patriots try short passes to negate the furious pass rush of the Giants, Woodhead could figure heavily into the game plan. He also has improved as a pass protector, something that will be vital.
“He takes a lot of pride in pass protection because people think he’s a little bit undersized. But he’s power-packed, he’s a strong guy,’’ offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said. “A lot of those one-and-one blitz pickup sessions [in practice] have been really competitive and good. He’s gotten a lot better at that in the two years that he’s been here. He’s played a key role in that.
“Part of that is his intelligence to understand our protections. He was able to pick things up right away. You can’t say enough about him as a person and the way he’s come in and accepted his role and tried to get better every day.’’
Woodhead was a star running back at Chadron State in Nebraska, twice being named the Division 2 player of the year. Protecting the passer was not one of his responsibilities.
O’Brien said running backs coach Ivan Fears taught Woodhead the techniques needed to keep the heat off Tom Brady.
“We like unselfish guys, guys who accept their roles, and guys who love to practice and Danny is right at the top of that list,’’ O’Brien said. “The guy wants to do anything you ask him to do. He’ll go out and play receiver; he’ll play running back; he’ll block in pass protection; he’ll run the football; he’ll run routes out of the backfield. He wants to improve and he wants to know what he needs to do to get better. His role this year has been vital to us.’’
Woodhead kept his head down while answering questions but did perk up when asked about the experience of getting to play in the Super Bowl.
“It’s something as a kid you dream of,’’ he said. “It’s really exciting, but we do need to keep things normal a little bit because it is a business trip and we got to be ready.
“I don’t know if it will sink in until we’re out on the field, but it’s exciting. We’re keeping it normal. [Bill Belichick] has done a great job of keeping it like a normal week and just preparing like it’s a normal week and that’s what we have to continue to do.’’
Woodhead called the Giants defense “a huge challenge’’ for the Patriots.
“I don’t think it’s just the last couple weeks. I think they had a great defense the whole year,’’ he said.
Woodhead also could make a difference on special teams. His fumble on a kickoff return in the third quarter of the AFC Championship game led to a field goal by the Ravens. But he came back with a 41-yard return that set up the winning drive in a 23-20 victory.
“Any play could help us out, whether it be offense, defense, or special teams,’’ Woodhead said.
Woodhead is listed as 5 feet 8 inches, 195 pounds. The Red Sox list Dustin Pedroia as 5-9, 180.
Both have been told they were too small to make in their respective sports. But Pedroia helped the Sox win a World Series and now Woodhead will be playing in the Super Bowl.
The question had to be asked. Has Woodhead ever met Pedroia?
“I have not met him. I’ve seen him play a lot, but I’ve never met him,’’ Woodhead said. “I’m sure he would be the first to say, too, that his height probably does not make a big difference in his game. Everyone else wants to make a big deal about it. But it’s really not.
“Dustin is a great player and he’s accomplished a lot. He’s a guy I would love to meet and hopefully I’ll have a chance to make it over to Fenway some day.’’
Winning the Super Bowl is one sure way to get an invite.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.