Over the next 99 days — days that all NFL fans will anxiously be counting down — I’ll be looking up and down the 2018 Colts’ roster and dive into their respective careers, fit with the team, and expectations for the following season with the goal of becoming extremely familiar with this team just in time for the upcoming campaign. Ninety-nine Colts on the wall, let’s start with defensive tackle Al Woods.
Woods was drafted by the New Orleans Saints with the 123rd pick of the 2010 NFL Draft. After after four years at LSU, he totaled 73 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 41 games. A one-year starter in college, Woods was seen as a high-potential pick and powerful one-technique tackle worthy of a late-round pick.
Woods was cut by the Saints just months after signing his rookie contract and wouldn’t make an NFL roster until early November, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him off of the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad. In nine games with the Bucs, Woods totaled 12 tackles and half a sack before being cut on Sept. 3, 2011.
While he did play a short stint with the Seattle Seahawks, it was in 2013 that Woods made his first career start in the NFL, suiting up with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In two starts and 16 games he deflected two passes and totaled two sacks and eight tackles.
In his first big contract of the NFL, Woods signed with the Tennessee Titans in 2014 on a two-year, $5.5 million contract and would re-up with the Titans in 2016 with a three-year, $10.5 million deal. Before being cut on March 8, 2017, Woods racked up 41 tackles and one sack in 17 starts and 41 games played.
Six days after his release, Woods was signed by Chris Ballard in his first offseason as general manager on a two-year deal. In his first season with the Colts, he started in all 16 games and had a career-high in tackles (24) and had one sack.
The Fit on the Roster
Aside from 333-pound Grover Stewart, Woods is the heaviest defensive lineman on the team at 330 pounds. He’s also the eldest of the defensive tackles on the roster at 31, as no other lineman is above the age of 30. While he’s never had amazing numbers that pop off a screen, he provides a veteran presence as an individual who’s had to work hard for his place in the NFL amongst a group of young and upcoming individuals.
In his first season with the Colts, Woods was reliable in the run game as nose tackle and had occasional luck in pushing the line of scrimmage backwards. He was less efficient in the passing game, as nose tackles don’t tend to rack up high sack totals, but his larger frame helped fill the gap up the middle and make room for linebackers to effectively blitz.
With the defensive scheme switching to a 4-3 base and a zone look in the secondary, the Colts’ coaching staff is trying all possible combinations in the trenches. Reports from OTAs on May 30 suggested Indy was showing a potential first-team line that featured Woods and Denico Autry in the interior, with Jabaal Sheard and Tarell Basham on the outside, but we are still months away from knowing the clear-cut starters up front.
One of the key positions for a 4-3 defense is the “3-technique” defensive tackle, a guy who has a combination of speed and quickness to get up the field along with the power and technique to hold the gap. While I would worry about Woods’ ability to move up the field, he has shown that he’s capable at holding his gap at the point of attack.
Earlier in the offseason, I would’ve thought Woods is suited as a rotational guy on the line and to be used in short-yardage and goal-line situations — but that was before Jonathan Hankins was released from the team. With Hankins gone, I’m much more certain that Woods will serve a significant amount of time at nose tackle for the 2018 Indianapolis Colts.