Ex-Cat makes Giant change

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 13, 2009 

When last we saw Andre Woodson in a real football game, he was riddling Florida State for 358 yards and four touchdowns.

Next time we see the former Kentucky quarterback in a football game, we might not recognize the throwing motion that put Woodson's name all over the UK career passing records.

"The way I'm throwing the ball," Woodson said Thursday, "is almost totally different now."

When Woodson took the dramatic slide in the 2008 NFL Draft that knocked him from an expected early choice all the way down to the 198th player taken, the biggest knock on the North Hardin product was a supposed "hitch" in his throwing motion.

So while spending last season on the New York Giants practice squad, Woodson said Giants coaches helped him rebuild his passing mechanics.

"In my old motion, my elbow would come up first, then the football would come up," Woodson said. "They got rid of the elbow coming up; now I just bring the football up. It's just a much faster motion getting rid of the ball."

During the autumn of 2007, Woodson was one of the most visible quarterbacks in college football. He briefly was considered a leading Heisman Trophy candidate after he led UK to its epic triple-overtime upset of eventual national champion LSU.

In the fall of 2008, Woodson was living the invisible life of an NFL practice squad member.

In other words, all work, no games.

"At first, it was very frustrating," Woodson said. "You sort of have to learn not to get down, to look at it as an opportunity."

As a Giant, Woodson said he had the chance to practice against one of the best defenses in football.

Every day, when New York workouts would end, Woodson said he would stay after and work with Giants quarterback Eli Manning on reading the defenses of that week's opponent.

"Eli really helped me," Woodson said. "That was a chance for me to see through his eyes, what he looks at, what he takes advantage of in the games."

During his season of training, Woodson also had the advantage of advice from a familiar voice.

He said he talked weekly with Randy Sanders, the UK quarterbacks coach credited with helping Woodson become an elite college QB.

"He would talk to me about things I need to work on, footwork, other quarterback talk," Woodson said. "He's been a great friend to me."

While learning the NFL ropes, Woodson also had the adjustment of living in the New York City area. Because the Giants play and practice in New Jersey, Woodson said the team requires its players to live in the Garden State, not the Big Apple.

"There's so much traffic and congestion in the City, they don't want guys to risk being late by getting stuck," Woodson said.

The former Kentucky QB had an apartment in Secaucus, N.J., a town of some 16,000.

"It's nice," Woodson said of his New Jersey abode. "My apartment was sort of off by itself. I like to keep it quiet."

Which is not to say he did not take advantage of the city that never sleeps.

"With some of the other players, we'd go into the City three, four times a week," Woodson said. "There's just so many things to do. The restaurants are really good there. I try to take advantage of the opportunity."

Which is what, ultimately, Woodson hopes to do on the football field.

His slide in the NFL Draft still stings.

The week after Kentucky's 2007 season ended with the victory over Florida State in the Music City Bowl, one prominent mock draft had Woodson going as the 15th pick in the first round to the Chicago Bears.

Then came what turned out to be a disastrous week at the Senior Bowl, an all-star game heavily attended by NFL scouts and coaches.

"That was where all the stuff about the hitch in my (throwing) motion really first came up," Woodson said. "And, supposedly, I was slow to pick up the (offensive) system that week. So, yeah, I wonder sometimes what would have happened if I hadn't gone."

His conclusion?

"If a team really wanted to draft you high, they would," he said. "No team felt that strongly about me. Now, I'm working to prove them wrong."

Woodson is spending some down time this winter in Kentucky. He's split his days between Lexington and visiting his mother, Robin, in his hometown of Radcliff.

The ex-Cats QB said he will report back to the Giants in the first week of March to work with quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer (who was Tim Couch's first head coach with the Cleveland Browns).

Woodson said his indication from the Giants has been "that they like me and think I'm a player with a future. That's what they've indicated to my agent, too."

It's not lost on him that prominent NFL quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Kurt Warner and Tony Romo started as either late-round draft choices or undrafted free agents.

"This is a business. I have to work hard and put myself in position to get an opportunity," Woodson said. "Then, when I get the opportunity, I have to produce."

You might say Andre Woodson is hoping that new throwing motion can produce a successful "pitch" for NFL playing time.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or (800) 950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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