Lions notes: Linebacker Josh Woods making an impact with increased playing time
Allen Park — In football, one man's injury is another man's opportunity. And for Detroit Lions linebacker Josh Woods, his recent opportunity, three years into his NFL career, is an audition to escape a previous established box.
Woods signed with the Lions early in the season, part of a chain reaction after the team decided to move on from Jamie Collins. That decision saw Derrick Barnes and Jalen Reeves-Maybin taking over Collins' role on defense, which also meant Barnes and Reeves-Maybin would be reducing their roles on special teams. To backfill those snaps, Woods was an easy choice.
Poached from the Chicago Bears, where he'd been a top special teams player the year before, Woods almost instantly gained that same reputation in Detroit. Not surprisingly, for the first nine games he was on the roster, he played just four defensive snaps.
But recent injuries to Reeves-Maybin and Alex Anzalone, suddenly called for Woods to play a career-high 64 defensive snaps, breaking his previous best of 43 from a week earlier.
More: Lions in enhanced COVID protocols, have no new positive tests
Woods responded with a team-high 13 tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage. That was a thrill for position coach Mark DeLeone, who spent the past two seasons with the linebacker in Chicago.
"To me, the way he played the past two weeks, I see great growth right there," said DeLeone said. I'm excited about him. I think his future is bright. ... Now I'm excited to see him improve on some things he needs to improve on and continue to get better, but I know he's excited about that opportunity."
Woods actually played safety in college, only transitioning to linebacker at the Bears request as a rookie in 2019. In the five weeks between first joining the team and veteran minicamp that year, he packed on 20 pounds on a strict steak-and-potato diet.
And while his currently expanded role could just as quickly evaporate once Reeves-Maybin and Anzalone are back to full strength, Woods hopes he's proving to whoever is watching that he can be more than just a special teamer.
"You want to play as much as you can," Woods said. "Fifteen plays every Sunday, it's great and you can really contribute to winning football on special teams. It's just as important as offense and defense, but you practice linebacker every day. You definitely want to go out there, you want to play. You dream of a bigger role everywhere you go, no matter where you are on the field."
Fighting through the pain
Rookie offensive tackle Penei Sewell has continued to impress with his performance on a seemingly weekly basis, but his toughness is also drawing admiration from his coaches and teammates.
A little more than a week ago, Sewell fought through the flu and a shoulder injury to play a key role in Detroit's first win of the season.
"I’ll just say this, he wasn’t 100% in that game," Lions coach Dan Campbell said last Monday. "He came to us Saturday before the game and said, ‘I’m playing.’ There was no talking him out of it. Man, he went in there and he helped us win. You never want a player to go in there and put themselves behind or make themselves — an injury that you could make worse — but, for a guy who knows what he’s capable of, especially a young guy, and is willing to go in there and just bang away and help us win and produce, I think speaks volumes of this kid.”
Last Sunday, against Denver, Sewell re-aggravated that shoulder injury diving for a loose ball that had slipped from the grasp of running back Godwin Igwebuike near the sideline early in the fourth quarter.
Sewell stayed on the ground for a couple minutes, getting tended to by trainers while officials sorted out Igwebuike had stepped out of bounds prior to fumbling. By the time play was ready to resume, Sewell was back at right tackle for the snap.
“I knew that I had enough in the tank to go out and execute for the team," Sewell said. "That’s really all that was, just really come to the realization of what means more to me, and at that moment, I knew what that was and I didn’t care. Just get up and go out there."
In addition to the team's ongoing slew of COVID cases, as well as persisting injury issues with T.J. Hockenson (hand), D'Andre Swift (shoulder) and Julian Okwara (ankle), the Lions added left guard Jonah Jackson and Anzalone to the list of players not practicing on Wednesday.
Anzalone exited Sunday's game in the first half with an ankle injury. Jackson, meanwhile, is dealing with a back injury after playing all 63 offensive snaps against Denver.
The Arizona Cardinals, this week's opponent, will reportedly be without star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for at least a few weeks due to a knee injury.