INDIANAPOLIS —Because of their very nature, most NFL training camps aren't exactly a walk in the park.
Players report to their facilities each day very early in the morning, sit in meetings, go outside and practice — oftentimes in full pads — under the hot summer sun, sit in more meetings and then are taken to a team hotel, where they are usually expected to keep on studying until it's time for bed.
Then they wake up and repeat.
Now in his eighth NFL season, Al Woods knows all too well the rigors of training camp.
Which is why Woods feels a sense of rejuvenation this year, in his first season with the Indianapolis Colts.
In fact, Woods used a three-letter word not often associated with camp recently when talking about his first Colts experience.
"This is a great place to be. It's all fun, man," Woods said. "It's probably the first training camp that I had that it's been fun. Like, I enjoy coming out here, I laugh, I have fun, I go home, be with my family for a couple hours and I go back to the hotel. Now that we're out of the hotel, I stay here for as long as I can and then go home and be with my family."
The 6-foot-4, 330-pound Woods was one of several free agents brought in by first-year Colts general manager Chris Ballard this offseason to help improve a defensive unit that ranked 30th out of 32 teams in total yards allowed, and 26th in the league in takeaways, in 2016.
At 30, Woods is actually one of the elder statesmen of the re-tooled Colts' defense. But his experience and production — particularly within the AFC South Division — made him an intriguing pickup for defensive coordinator Ted Monachino's 3-4 base scheme.
An LSU product, Woods was a fourth-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 2010 NFL Draft, though he would be waived by the Saints during final cuts that year. But since that time, he has played in 81 regular season games in stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers, and, most recently, in three seasons with the Tennessee Titans.
During that time, Woods has racked up 120 career tackles with 3.5 sacks and two passes defensed.
Throughout his career, however, Woods has mostly been utilized as a rotational-type player at the nose tackle position; of his 19 career starts, 16 have come in the past two years, and he's yet to start more than nine games in a season.
But with the Colts, he has been locked in as the team's No. 1 nose tackle. Head coach Chuck Pagano said that Woods put in a strong offseason and training camp, and proved he's not just a fit for certain downs and distances.
"He's doing a great job, and we're not going to pigeon hole him and say, 'Hey, he's a first and second down run-stopping interior defensive lineman,'" Pagano said of Woods. "Again, he's going to be able to go in and play in our big-sub package versus the three-wide set and do a great job on first and second down. We have a lot of one-on-one pass rush stuff out there against the offensive line, and he's put on tape some really good rushes. It isn't just bull rushes. He's got some quickness for a big man."
For his part, Woods said it's been exciting getting to know his new fellow defensive linemen — both on and off the field.
That communication comes in handy pre-snap, when Woods and fellow starters Johnathan Hankins and Henry Anderson need to read how the offense is lining up and immediately react.
"We've got our own specific communications — how we're talking to each other; code words we say," Woods said. "Even just looks, like, Hank will look at me and I already know what he's thinking, so we just go with the flow. Same thing with Anderson, man — he's a good dude. We'll look at each other … 'Alright, alright, alright; I got you. I know what you're thinking, so let's go to work.'"
Speaking of work, Woods spends his offseasons running his own cattle farm back home in Elton, La., the parallels of which are clear when compared with training camp: long, hard days under the hot sun.
Woods says the two jobs are "a different type of work," but, now with the Colts, he felt inclined to throw in that three-letter word again when comparing the two.
"Over there, you can work at your pace; over here you're working at the coaches' pace. So I might work and take a 20-, 30-minute break at home, and out here I might get a 10-second break," Woods said. "So it's a lot different, but at the same time, man, they're both fun; two totally different worlds and I wouldn't change either one of them."
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