Klee: Woodyard the leader of Broncos' defense

By Paul Klee Updated: November 7, 2013 at 8:22 pm • Published: November 7, 2013 | 8:00 pm 0

DENVER - What's the international code for a tired athlete?

Hands on the hips. It screams, "I'm beat, man."

Now watch the Broncos defense at San Diego on Sunday. Watch Wesley Woodyard.

"If Wood sees me and Vick (Kevin Vickerson) with our hands on our hips, he'll slap 'em down," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton told me Thursday, "He'll knock 'em down. Next game, just watch."

Look, Ma. No hands. Not on Wood's defense.

And make no mistake about it: the Broncos defense is Wood's defense.

"He's the best leader I've ever been around," said Knighton, a fifth-year veteran. "By far. I couldn't imagine our defense without him."

But for how long will Woodyard remain the leader of the Broncos defense?

After this season, his sixth with the Broncos and in the NFL, Woodyard transitions into a precarious state. The linebacker becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Woodyard is the kind of leader you miss when he's gone. Quick, which games did the high-flying Broncos look most pedestrian? Jacksonville, a win, and Indianapolis, a loss.

Guess who didn't play? Woodyard was sidelined with a neck injury.

Don't let him be gone, Broncos. Commit to Woodyard, long-term.

This is the final year of Wood's contract. I get the impression the Broncos are committed to building their future defense around linebacker Von Miller, whose traffic tickets and vacant memory are no match for his generational talent.

I also get the impression they are committed to the real leader of the defense: No. 52. Here's an educated guess the Broncos will lock up Woodyard.

In a league where brushes with the law and locker-room shenanigans lead off SportsCenter more often than they should, Woodyard is one of the many good guys.

Being a good guy doesn't count for everything, but it should count for something.

"Wesley's a terrific leader for us," interim coach Jack Del Rio said.

In recent memory, the Broncos teams that advanced deep into the playoffs had a team captain at linebacker who could rally his teammates in the toughest games.

In that sense, Wood can be John Mobley. He can be Al Wilson.

Teammates appreciate Woodyard because he has their back. When a position coach asks what happened on a busted play, it's Wood who stands up and accepts accountability.

Now is the time when Wood needs to earn the big bucks.

With head coach John Fox in a North Carolina hospital bed, the impetus to keep this train rolling to the Super Bowl isn't on Del Rio or the coaches.

It's on the veterans in the Broncos' locker room, team captains like Woodyard.

"(Fox) called all the captains on Saturday and Sunday to kind of tell them what's going on," Peyton Manning said.

Outside the Dove Valley headquarters, Fox is underappreciated for the Broncos' 18-2 record since the last time Denver played at San Diego. His impact is not limited to what the world sees on NFL Sundays, but the enthusiasm he brings Monday to Saturday.

Absent Fox, it's up to the veteran players to slap their hands off their hips.

"Leaders have a calming effect on a football team," vice president of football operations John Elway said.

When the 2008 NFL draft passed and Woodyard wasn't selected, then-Broncos coach Mike Shanahan called him twice. The second call was to make certain Woodyard would join the Broncos as an undrafted free agent.

"It was an exciting moment for me," Woodyard said.

Here's another exciting moment hopefully still to come:

The day Wood signs his next contract with the Broncos.

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Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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