For several weeks prior to his mid-December surgery to repair his MCL, Woody had been bothered and sidelined by the injury, playing through the pain but rarely practicing. Consistently a stalwart at practice throughout his career, the 12-year veteran lineman would head to the training room to receive therapy when his teammates emptied out of the locker room for the field. His quiet leadership and intensity was missed to the point that in early December, Woody's teammates replaced the placard above his locker with the name ‘Waldo' in a bit of hijinks aimed at their missing teammate.
The homage to the cartoon character ‘Where's Waldo' was not lost on Woody then, but his Jets teammates are excited to have the lineman back. Tuesday morning was the first practice back for Woody since his surgery three weeks ago.
"It's really good to have Damien back, there is that comfort level out there," right guard Brandon Moore said. "I think now going into the playoffs, just knowing and having him back as we put a new system into place for this week's game, it's good for all of us on the line."
Woody was capably replaced during his three game absence by Wayne Hunter, the versatile lineman who made his first NFL start in Pittsburgh in Week 15, filling in at right tackle. The return of the veteran Woody lifts an offensive line that is performing at perhaps its best caliber all season. Over the past three games, quarterback Mark Sanchez has been sacked just once.
While he was limited in practice yesterday, Woody participated in both team drills and the full team session involving the first team offense. He was limited in the number of reps he participated in but complained only of soreness associated with a player coming back from injury. This was the most extensive practice for Woody in well over a month since first injuring his knee in mid-November.
Having clinched a playoff berth in Week 16, the Jets were able to rest a number of starters this past Sunday in their 38-7 win over Buffalo. Woody was one of the several veteran players who didn't suit up for the Jets in the regular season finale. If he needed to, however, Woody said that he would have been able to play, perhaps a sign that his injured knee is progressing better than anticipated.
"I don't know. If I had to do it, probably, I could have probably done it on Sunday," Woody said. "Luckily for us, that situation didn't come up. It just gave me extra time to get out here and rehab a little more - get a little more healthy."
And for the Jets, that means that ‘Waldo' has been found again, on the field, right where he belongs. Woody's return to practice is on schedule and he aims to do more reps each day, leading up to Saturday's game against the Colts. The goal was always, Woody says, to return to the field in time for the playoffs.
"That's what I've been working towards the whole time, behind the scenes, doing my thing," Woody said.