Shortly after Ryan Silverfield left the Detroit Lions and took a job as offensive line coach at Memphis back in January of 2015, he set out to hit the recruiting trail. Little did he know his first stop would produce one of his all-time favorite players.
Silverfield, who is now the Tigers head coach, visited the home of Dustin Woodard out in Arizona, happy to enjoy some nice weather after enduring the start of Michigan's harsh winter. He didn't know what to expect since most of the recruiting organizations barely had the 6-2, 291-pound offensive lineman on their radar.
Then he sat and spoke with Woodward and his family and things quickly changed.
"He was a 0-star kid with no other Division I offers at national powerhouse programs," Silverfield said. "I knew he'd be a heck of a football player because he was just so impressive. His maturity and poise for a kid that age. He came in and really was able to play almost immediately and was a freshman All-American. It was his maturity that allowed him to play right away."
How is a young man's maturity level measured, one might ask? Remember the old Tom Coughlin stories from his days as Giants coach, when he would routinely fine players for arriving "late" for meetings if they showed up five minutes before they were to begin?
Well, Woodard's idea of being late for an offensive line meeting at Memphis was to arrive 30-45 minutes before the scheduled start time.
"He was a true pro even as an 18 year old," Silverfield said with a chuckle. "For four straight years he was always the first player to arrive at my offensive line meetings, generally 30-45 minutes ahead of time. He's the kind of player that others naturally gravitate toward and learn from. His example was one that many of our linemen followed."
Looking at his resume it would be hard not to be impressed. As a four-year mainstay in the lineup he matched the school record by starting 53 games and moved from left guard to right guard to center, where he settled in last season. Silverfield explained that Woodard's moving around was due to filling voids rather than his limitations at other spots. If a hole existed, Woodard filled it.
"We trusted him to fill a need," Silverfield said. "He beat out a senior for the left guard spot. Then we lost a right guard and felt he could make the switch more comfortably than anyone else. Then our center graduated and he moved to the inside. I also felt snapping would be good long-term for his success for him to have a shot at NFL. For him to be able to snap, step, make calls and handle protections, and he did all of those things flawlessly."
At this point it might be logical to ask why the Patriots were able to select Woodard in the seventh round with the 230th overall pick. While 6-2, 291 pounds might sound large to the average man, for NFL offensive linemen it would be considered undersized.
Silverfield recognizes this and understands why he was still on the board late into Day 3. But he also understands better than most how the Patriots like to develop their young offensive linemen.
During his time in the NFL he worked on a staff in Minnesota with Jeff Davidson, who also was on the Patriots staff from 1997-2004 including six years as Dante Scarnecchia's assistant.
"So Dante carries a lot of weight with me. I watched Jeff a lot and he would tell me everything Dante would do," Silverfield said. "If you watch my drill tape I learned it from Jeff, who learned it from Dante. … I used to sit up in the Combine and sit as close to Dante as possible. It was hard not to appreciate one of greatest offensive line coaches of all time.
"So, Dustin will be able to understand the calls, the terms, the protections. We're not just zone left … he was asked to pull, power, play different protections against five-man, six-man, seven-man. Some of these spread gimmick offenses we went against, that will be good experience for him. This stuff won't be foreign to him."
Woodard will have an opportunity to fight for backup roles along the interior of the offensive line, jobs that appear to be wide open at the moment. He was one of three such players the team selected on Day 3, clearly with an eye toward finding some depth after the departure of Ted Karras via free agency. Hjalte Froholdt and Yodny Cajuste, a pair of 2019 draft picks, both missed their rookie seasons due to injury, leaving the door for roster spots wide open.
Silverfield believes he will get every opportunity to showcase his skills, and once he does will make life difficult on anyone who wishes to let him go.
"I'll put it this way: How can I go about building my offensive line room? I'd find a tough, smart, dedicated guy who always does it the right way. And that's Dustin," Silverfield concluded. "He's an academic scholar and a perfect example. A model citizen.
"People doubted him in high school, in college and you're going to meet him and say he's not very big. He'll have a chip on his shoulder and he'll prove everybody wrong and do it the right way.
"This kid's going to find a way to stick around."
View photos of Patriots OL Dustin Woodard in action during his time at Memphis.