RENTON, WA - At the time of this writing, defensive tackle Al Woods hasn't played in a professional football game for 597 days. But the 34-year old is reaping the rewards of coming into training camp with extra fresh legs.
"He missed a year last year which, at this time of his career, didn’t hurt him," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Monday. "We might have benefitted from that."
In his second career stint with the Seahawks in 2019, Woods finished the year on the tail-end of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Had Seattle defeated Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs, he would have been eligible to return for the NFC championship game.
Unfortunately, the team fell by a score of 28-23 and Woods entered free agency shortly thereafter. In the time between that crisp night at Lambeau Field to the start of the new league year, the COVID-19 pandemic had blindsided the world and sent the NFL's offseason plans into a state of flux. Woods, unsure of how the disease would impact the season, signed with the Jaguars but eventually opted out of the 2020 campaign due to COVID-related concerns.
With life in the United States trending towards a more pre-COVID state, Woods—like many other players who opted out last year—has made his return to the gridiron. And who better to make that return than with the team he's already played for on two separate occasions in his 10-year career—the Seahawks.
Coming off a fifth-place finish in rushing yards allowed, stopping the run wasn't a major concern of the Seahawks for most of the 2020 season. However, they could have used another stout run defender like Woods in their wild-card matchup with the Rams this past January. As Los Angeles cruised to a 30-20 upset, rookie running back Cam Akers gashed the Seattle defense for 131 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.
Over the course of the offseason, the Seahawks refined their defensive line. However, the majority of their key additions came out on the edge, whereas the interior suffered one of the team's biggest losses this spring.
Moving on from five-year starter Jarran Reed for salary cap purposes, Seattle quickly shifted gears and picked up Woods to add some run stuffing ability up the middle. The veteran defender signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract and is expected to be the No. 2 defensive tackle behind Poona Ford on the depth chart.
Woods was one of the Seahawks' unsung heroes on defense in 2019. He posted a 77.7 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus, generating 32 combined tackles—three for a loss—and 1.0 sack on 11 pressures in 450 total snaps.
"Al is really important to us," Carroll explained. "I love the leadership that he brought and the stability that he brings. He’s a great guy and strong, mature, clear, and he gives people around him confidence. He was an important guy I thought for this group, and we love having a big guy."
With Reed out of the picture, the Seahawks could use a steady, dependable force in the heart of their defensive line. They believe Woods gives them that, balancing out some of the bigger unknowns they have in the group with the likes of Bryan Mone, Robert Nkemdiche and Cedrick Lattimore.
Although Carroll has spoken highly of all three, the jury remains out on their ability to consistently produce on the field. Woods, on the other hand, boasts a long track record of success and, despite his time away from the game, the Seahawks are confident he'll pick up where he left off.
"I have a feeling that Al is going to be a really big factor for us," Carroll expressed. "I’m really excited to have him back and he’s really fired up to be here. ... It was important to see how he returned, was he able to condition himself. He’s a big man and it’s hard for the older big guys to continue to push but he’s got a great makeup and character about him. He looks great, he doesn’t look like he missed a beat.”
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 330 pounds, the towering Woods is expected to get his first taste of NFL action in nearly two years when the Seahawks face the Raiders in a preseason bout on August 14.