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Jelani Woods, feeling better than ever, aims to earn back role in Colts' offense

Woods, a 2022 third-round pick, missed the entire 2023 season due to hamstring issues. 

Jelani Woods knows he can't just pick up where he left off at the end of an encouraging rookie 2022 season.

Shane Steichen and the Colts' coaching staff didn't get much of a look at the 2022 third-round tight end in 2023, when hamstring issues limited him during the offseason program then sidelined him for the majority of training camp and the entire regular season. But Woods – who said he feels better than he did as a rookie – worked his way back on to the field over the last few months, and has participated during May's OTA practices at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

"I know what I can do, I know how (much) I can help the offense," Woods said. "I know I can be a pivotal point in the offense and I'm just trying to show that and earn the respect back, earn my spot back. Just pretty much trying to do whatever I can to show them Jelani, he's here."

Steichen has been with pleased how Woods has not only been available for OTA practices and offseason workouts, but how he's looked over the last few weeks.

"Obviously coming off the injury, taking care of his body has been awesome," Steichen said. "But to see him out here going with the guys, he's been making a ton of plays. A big body tight end that can run the vertical routes, run the shallows, run the deep cross, it's awesome to see. Obviously he's a matchup for a defense that they gotta be prepared for, so it's been good to see."

Woods in 2022 caught 25 passes for 312 yards with three touchdowns, including the game-winner in the Colts' Week 3 victory over the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. He finished his rookie year strong, too: Among 53 tight ends with at least 150 snaps from Weeks 12-18, Woods' 70.3 Pro Football Focus offense grade ranked 10th.

But even through that promising debut season, Woods felt limited physically – limits he feels he's broken through in 2024 thanks to an intentional workout routine that's targeted strengthening individual muscles (hamstrings, quads, etc.). Woods said he feels like he's getting out of his breaks quicker and is looser in some areas, which he hopes translates into doing more than he was able to do as a rookie.

"I feel better (than in 2022), really, because I'm starting to know my body really well and creating a routine daily to just keep building myself," Woods said. "I feel like I'm in a good start now so I'm just trying to keep it going and take it one day at a time really, for the most part."

Woods was able to stay engaged with the Colts' offense while sidelined in 2023, attending meetings and asking questions to be as prepared as possible for his return to the field. Mentally, being on injured reserve all season was difficult for the generally jovial Woods, who leaned on his teammates in the Colts' tight end room and his family to keep his spirits up.

But Woods also understood his absence last year was tough on the Colts' coaching staff, which wasn't able to develop and deploy a role for him in the team's offense. And his goal now and into training camp is to earn that role back.

"Missing a year, it took a toll not only on me but on the coaches as well," Woods said. "They probably had a plan they wanted to execute, I wasn't able to take care of that so now I'm just trying to get back to my spot to be able to have that plan again and have it rolling."

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