NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When veteran linebacker Wesley Woodyard joined the Titans as a free agent in 2014, he immediately assumed a leadership role on his new team.
A five-time captain with the Broncos, Woodyard gladly accepted that role. Right out of the gate, his new teammates in Tennessee voted him a team captain during a season when he started all 16 games and led the team in tackles.
Heading into this season, however, Woodyard found himself out of a starting job.
It was a shock to his system, but Woodyard didn't sulk. He kept working.
"An old veteran, Mario Haggan, once told me this when I was in Denver: Don't worry about things you can't control, just worry about things you can control,'' said Woodyard, who played six seasons with the Broncos before joining the Titans. "That means when you get your chance, you shine and you don't look back.
"This offseason, I knew I wasn't going to get a chance to start with different factors ... But I had to come out here and work hard. My teammates expect me to come out here and work hard and not pout. I am not a pouter and I believe in competition."
Woodyard was ultimately rewarded. By Week 4, the veteran found himself back in the starting lineup, alongside inside linebacker Avery Williamson. Heading into Sunday's game against the Jaguars, Woodyard is second on the team with 78 tackles – trailing only Williamson's 88 – and he's also second on the team with five sacks, behind only linebacker Brian Orakpo's seven.
Woodyard posted double-digit tackle totals in five of the first seven games since returning to the starting lineup in place of Zach Brown.
Titans interim coach Mike Mularkey praised Woodyard for his approach.
"I can't say enough about him and what he does for our team,''Mularkey said of Woodyard. "I know he lost his role there early in the season. He could have easily gone into a funk and not once has he ever wavered. He's a pro, he comes out to practice. He's in every special teams meeting whether he's on them or not. And he's productive on defense. He's a good guy for our young players to follow and watch if you want to be good, successful."
At the start of the season, the Titans elected to go with Brown and Williamson at the inside linebacker spots, leaving Woodyard in a back-up role.
While Woodyard still contributed in extra linebacker packages and on special teams, his impact wasn't as big as it had been earlier in his career. Woodyard posted 114 tackles in 2012, when he also set a career high with 5.5 sacks.
Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton credited Woodyard for his attitude.
Teammates have complimented him as well. Under defensive coaches Dick LeBeau and Horton, Woodyard has been part of an attacking defense that's made a habit of getting after opposing quarterbacks.
"He is a good person, and a great teammate,'' Williamson said of Woodyard. "Wesley is a guy who goes out there and competes every day."
Woodyard said he approached this season no differently than previous seasons in the NFL. When he found himself without a starting spot in training camp, he reflected on his past.
Woodyard was an underdog coming into the NFL. He initially signed with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2008 after being passed over in the NFL Draft. In Denver, he was a three-time nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
"I always go out there and do my best, and let everything play out, whether I am running with the 1s the 2s, the 3s or the 4s,'' Woodyard said. "I am going to go out there every day and compete. Competition brings out the best with everybody.
Titans Online looks at the 2013 season of former Denver Broncos LB Wesley Woodyard. (AP Photos)
"Every year, I take it as I am trying to beat somebody out. It is a long year, and I'm a competitor. I came in undrafted, so I am always trying to beat somebody out and outwork them."
Woodyard, who played at Kentucky, has tallied over 600 tackles during his eight-year career. He's played in 114 career games, with 64 starts. In 2012, he was just the 12th player in the last 30 years to record at least 100 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions in a single season. He played in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2013 season.
Woodyard joined Hall of Fame running back Floyd Little as the only players in Broncos franchise history to serve as a captain in each of their first five years with the club. He was once again named a team captain this season with the Titans.
Woodyard, 29, calls himself the "hype man" on the playing field. He wants his approach — and attitude — to speak for itself.
"When you walk away from this game you want to see how you changed things for the positive, and make sure you don't leave anything negative out there that young guys can pick up on,'' Wood- yard said. "When they see an older vet do something negative, they think they can do it, too. So you want to lead by example and do great things."