'Selfless' Al Woods Emerges as Surprising, Yet Deserving Captain For Youthful Seahawks – Sports Illustrated

RENTON, Wash. – Ranking positions of prestige in football, quarterbacks easily stand at the top of the mountain playing the most important position in professional sports. Behind them, receivers, pass rushers, and cornerbacks also stand out as glorified positions that receive the big bucks from NFL teams.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, most casual fans likely can't name more than a handful of nose tackles in the league. But while it isn't a sexy position and their contributions don't often show up on a stat sheet through tackles, stats, or quarterback hits, they are far more important than a box score indicates.
Though fans may not understand his true impact on how the Seahawks perform on game day, teammates and coaches know how critical veteran nose tackle Al Woods is to their defensive success anchoring the middle of the front line.
In a statement that speaks loudly to how his peers view him, coming off arguably his finest season with a new contract in tow, the 35-year old Woods was voted as one of Seattle's four captains for the 2022 season earlier this week. Along with receiver Tyler Lockett, safety Quandre Diggs, and special teams ace Nick Bellore, he will be wearing a gold "C" on his uniform for the first time in his career.
One of Woods' biggest fans, Seahawks defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt couldn't have been happier to see him receive much-deserved recognition in his 12th NFL season.
“It feels really good to see that happen for him. He is a man’s man," Hurtt said of Woods being named a team captain. "This guy is a stud, and we are lucky to have him. I love the guy as a person and I’m so happy he was rewarded with this. Even though he may have not have had the title, the guy has been always looked that way in that kind of manner.”
On the field, Woods excels in what Hurtt called a "selfless, thankless job" as a nose tackle in Seattle's multiple defense. Doing all the dirty work in the trenches, he frequently has to take on double teams as means for freeing up linebackers and safeties behind him. One of the best in the business, his presence helped Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks stay clean and rack up more than 170 tackles apiece last season.
A position of great sacrifice that aids the success and acclaim of other defenders, nose tackle isn't for everyone. But playing with a relentless effort every snap he's on the field, Woods thrives in and even relishes the role.
“The guys that know they have a lot of success playing behind him, they know how valuable he is," Hurtt explained. "His job is to take on two grown men. Alright, 600-something pounds between him and control two guys, so the guys that play behind him can make tackles and not have to deal with blockers and address blockers. And he’ll do that every single time that he is out there and never complain, doesn’t want any credit. As long as it helps us win, that’s what it is always about. So, he's the definition of unselfishness.”
But as Woods proved time and time again last year, he isn't simply a space eating nose tackle and can be a disruptive force. Called "country strong" by many of his teammates, the 330-pound defender regularly blew up runs at the line of scrimmage last year, amassing 12 tackles that netted zero yards or negative yardage in the backfield. Pro Football Focus credited him with 31 stops, or tackles that constituted a failure for the offense, to earn a stellar 80.3 run defense grade.
In a bit of a surprise, Woods also contributed defending the pass as well. Though he often didn't play on second and third down in obvious passing situations, he set new career-highs with 18 quarterback pressures and three pass deflections while adding 1.5 sacks for good measure.
Where Woods may make his greatest impact in Seattle, however, goes even further beyond what he does mucking things up at the line of scrimmage and keeping blockers away from his linebacker mates behind him.
Leading by example by playing with a non-stop motor that rubs off on teammates, in just one of many examples where he displayed incredible pursuit for a player of his size, Woods could be seen running down running back Travis Homer 50 yards down field on a play during training camp. There were other times where he sprinted down the line to make a play outside of the tackle box, something nose tackles rarely do.
Though some veterans aren't keen on investing much time in their younger teammates, Hurtt says Woods is the exact opposite, going out of his way to provide advice and support for players regardless of position.
"When you talk about that somebody that has their personal life together, whether it is as a husband, as a father, who takes care of his body as a pro, his practice habits, his study habits, what he does for the young people," Hurtt remarked. "A lot of times you get veteran guys that stay on their island and to themselves. He brings all the young guys in and really just tries to help these guys. Not a lot of veteran players do that, but with him, it doesn’t matter if they are a defensive lineman or offensive lineman or DB or wide receiver."
For a squad that could feature multiple rookies playing extensive roles right away, including cornerbacks Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant as well as tackles Abraham Lucas and Charles Cross, the importance of a highly respected player such as Woods who does everything the right way willingly and eagerly playing the mentor role can't be overlooked.
For that reason alone, coupled with his obvious on-field talent and attention to detail, it shouldn't come as a surprise why Woods is revered by his teammates and coaches alike and was selected as a team captain. As the Seahawks navigate new waters entering the post-Russell Wilson era starting on Monday night against the Broncos, his veteran presence will be especially invaluable for the organization.
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