NASHVILLE – Wesley Woodyard started every game he played in over the previous two seasons with the Titans.
Since joining the team in 2014, he'd been a regular starter until this year.
Yet when this season started, Woodyard found himself in a reduced role behind surging young linebackers Rashaan Evans and Jayon Brown. During the first six weeks of the season, he played primarily in extra linebacker packages, and on special teams.
Woodyard didn't complain.
Then, when Brown was sidelined with an injury on Sunday against the Chargers, Woodyard got his first start of the season.
And he stepped up and made the biggest play of the game when it mattered most. It was Woodyard who stripped Chargers running back Melvin Gordon of the football before he crossed the goal-line in the closing seconds, and defensive lineman Jurrell Casey recovered it in the end zone to preserve the win.
And it was a perfect example of Woodyard's winning approach, as if anyone needed a reminder.
You see, there's a reason why Woodyard has been voted a captain by his teammates every season since he entered the NFL back in 2008 with the Broncos. Woodyard was also a captain in high school and at the University of Kentucky.
"I told him one day a couple of weeks ago that he may be the best pro I've ever been around, and I have been around some great ones," Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees said of Woodyard. "He has handled everything with class, and with dignity. He prepares like he is going to play, and when he does play, he is prepared to play. He is great for the younger guys in the room … and he is a great role model for all the guys on defense.
"I can't say enough good things about Wood – he is a dream to coach."
Woodyard finished Sunday's game with seven tackles, one week after racking up eight stops and a sack while stepping in for an injured Brown in Denver.
Brown has returned to practice this week, and he's expected to be back in the starting lineup on Sunday against the Buccaneers.
While on the sideline Sunday, Brown cheered for Woodyard the same way Woodyard has supported him. A third-year pro, Brown called Woodyard's instinctive play one of the best he'd ever seen.
"He is a great professional, a great player, and a great person as well," Brown said of Woodyard. "I look up to him and I watch how he interacts with the guys on the team and the coaches. He's a great leader and hopefully I can get to that level one day."
Woodyard said he'll always be prepared, no matter his role.
And he appreciates the compliment Pees gave him during a Saturday night pregame speech in front of the team.
In 12 NFL seasons, Woodyard has played in 171 career games, and he's now up to 1,050 tackles, 28 sacks, and eight forced fumbles.
"It means a lot, what Dean said, because he has been around a lot of guys I look up to," Woodyard said. "I will take that compliment and cherish that moment he gave me for the rest of my life.
"I just want to come in here every day and work hard and get my teammates better. I control what I can control and not worry about any other situation. … Overall, I am here to do a job and I have to do a great job with whatever I am doing, whether that is on special teams or whether that is starting on defense. But at the end of the day you have to go out there and make those plays."